‘Half Brothers’: This road movie has fun sibling rivalry, but we’ve seen this vehicle before

“Half Brothers” – Renato (Luis Gerardo Mendez) meets his half-brother Asher (Connor Del Rio) for the first time in Chicago, but most unexpectedly.   Renato flies to The Windy City from Mexico because his estranged father (Juan Pablo Espinosa) is nearing the end.  Flavio (Espinosa) wishes to see his son one last time before he passes.

You see, 26 years ago, Flavio left San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to look for work in the U.S.  He hasn’t seen his son during all this time, so naturally, Renato carries plenty of resentment, which unfortunately has spilled into other aspects of his life.  His fiancée Pamela (Pia Watson) points out that he doesn’t have any friends, and he still hasn’t hit it off with her young son Emilio (Mike A. Salazar).  This 30-something aviation CEO also has a visceral disdain for the United States, which – frankly in 2020 – isn’t out of line, but his contempt is pretty harsh.

In short, Renato needs a hug.

Well, Asher is the man for the job.  This thoughtful, kindhearted soul would wrap his arms around the nearest tree or goat (yes, a goat).  Back in the Chicago hospital, Flavio reveals that Renato and Asher are his sons, much to the newly discovered half-brothers’ surprise!  This elder statesman asks the boys to travel together, become acquainted, and learn about his story and the reasons for never returning to Mexico.

“Half Brothers” is a road picture with a familiar formula, as two opposites crisscross the country (or a sizable portion of it), and hopefully will grow closer when reaching their destination.  In this critic’s mind, “Midnight Run” (1988) is the all-time best of the genre, but director Luke Greenfield’s and screenwriters Jason Shuman’s and Eduardo Cisneros’ premise best resembles “Due Date” (2010) – starring Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis – for a couple reasons.  In the 2010 movie, Peter (Downey Jr.) is in a race against time to see the birth of his child.  Here, Renato needs to finish this excursion to attend his wedding, which is in three days and counting.  Also, Galifianakis made a career out of playing eccentrics, including Ethan from “Due Date”.  When watching Del Rio, one might wonder if he channeled his inner Galifianakis for six months straight before this movie.

A man-child doesn’t begin to describe Asher, as he’s one of the most oddball non-Zach Galifianakis-adults to grace the screen in recent memory.  He sports a 1977 Bjorn Borg-like headband and drives an orange Mercedes station wagon with several plastic containers of Ethanol in the cab (for some unknown reason).  He doesn’t carry cash or credit cards, but has no problem ordering coffee at the nearest Starbucks and asking to borrow $2 from a random guy in line.   You couldn’t get two more differing personas, and since Renato holds so much animosity over his dad, the brothers continuously argue and even physically tussle on their trip.

Their trek from Chicago to the American Southwest is a scavenger hunt, and to fill on-screen spaces, the filmmakers include some middling, predictable sequences like a bar fight and a laughing gas attack.  Many of these mini-stops feel like figurative cul-de-sacs, while the fellas’ conversations – sans any Keystone Cops pomp and circumstance – in Asher’s oddball 4-wheeled carriage resonate much more.

Perhaps a “My Dinner with Andre” (1981) stripped-down construction would better serve the material.  Even though the film would sacrifice several on-screen larks, a deeper (and also witty) connection over 90 minutes would add noteworthy gravitas between these two brothers of other mothers.  Of course, that’s a different movie, but “Half Brothers” – as-is – has some good stuff, including Mendez’s and Del Rio’s enjoyable performances and a sincere attempt at presenting the current immigration experience.  Ah well, I just would’ve preferred a different cinematic vehicle to get from here to there.

⭐⭐ out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image and Trailer credits:  Focus Features

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