"My Uncle Rafael" elicits plenty of goofy chuckles even as it regularly threatens to fly off the rails. The film, directed by Marc Fusco from a script by Scott Yagemann and star Vahik Pirhamzei (based on a character from Pirhamzei's stage plays), feels a bit made up as it goes along but, like the best send-ups, also never feels so far from the actual truth.
There's a nutty fidelity to the movie's title character, an alternately astute and dense 71-year-old Armenian immigrant, even if his ethnicity is more fodder for a gaggle of broad cultural references and ESL-tinged malaprops ("It's my way or the freeway!") than a true plot advancer.
Still, it's fun to watch as an ambitious TV producer (Rachel Blanchard) convinces Rafael (Pirhamzei) — with urging from his opportunistic, Glendale coffeehouse owner-son (also played by Pirhamzei) — to star in a reality show as an Old World wise "uncle" enlisted to fix a dysfunctional L.A. family consisting of Blair (Missi Pyle), her lawyer-fiancé, Damon (John Michael Higgins); her about-to-be ex-husband, Jack (Anthony Clark); and Blair and Jack's kids: surly teen Kim (Carly Chaikin) and mouthy 10-year-old Beau (Sage Ryan).
It's no great surprise how things end up for this tossed-under-one-roof bunch. How they get there, however, provides a largely fertile playground for the picture's talented comic ensemble.
"My Uncle Rafael." MPAA rating: PG-13 for some language and sexual references. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. At selected theaters.