Dir: Jared Hess. US. 2006.90mins tbc.
Mostly an interminable journey through corny accentsand gross sight gags, Jared Hess' lowbrow Mexican-wrestling comedy Nacho Librecomes alive only when Jack Black frees himself from its puerile screenplay andromps in all his wild-haired, flabby-tummy glory.
In such moments,which are too infrequent and mostly come at the end of the slow-moving movie, Blackreminds us of John Belushi in National Lampoon's Animal House or else the comic chops that madehim such a revelation in School Of Rock.
But there are notquite enough of these moments to save NachoLibre - and Black's otherwise-bland performance -for those young men and male teens hankering for a clever comedy about itssubject: the hip and exotic world of masked, costumed Mexican freestylewrestling.
What audiences getinstead is something dumber than Dumber And Dumberer. And since nobodyoutside that target demographic will be able to stomach this, word-of-mouthshould be so-so when Nacho Libre opens in the US on June 16. The best hope is thatit might develop a following on DVD.
Internationally,it's hard to see it eliciting that much enthusiasm beyond Black's hardcore fanbase. Mexico and South America would seem the best betsdue to the subject, but Nacho Libre makes little effort to be true to its milieu andtreats many of its Latin American characters as grotesques. As such it's aslikely to offend or bore as it is to generate enthusiasm: odd given that whatwe do glimpse of the Mexican wrestling world itself, with all its all bizarreHalloween-worthy masks and glittery costumes, looks alluring.
Filmed insouthern Mexico's sun-baked state of Oaxaca, the film introduces Nacho (Black),a hapless friar and cook in a monastery who adds nachos to flavor refried beansso bad that he regurgitates them through his nose. In addition he has aflatulence problem.
He also leads asecret life as a talentless, overweight luchador named Nacho Libre, whosered-and-blue makeshift costume makes him resemble the anti-Superman. Libre repeatedly gets the jalapenos beaten out of him inthe ring but likes the money he gets for losing, which he hopes to use to helpsave an orphanage. Meanwhile, back at the monastery, he longs for a beautifuldark-haired nun (De La Reguera).
The film reteams Black with SchoolOf Rock's gifted writer Mike White, whose previous work (Orange County, The Good Girl, Chuck & Buck)revealed a flair for finding the humanity inside eccentric characters. Here itfails to serve such a purpose: suspicion can only fall on the two new additionsto the screenwriting formula, Jared and Jerusha Hess.
But while Nacho Libreshares some of the aesthetic of NapoleonDynamite - also directed by Jared Hess - it has none of its fizzle. There'sa deadpan minimalism to many of the scenes and overconfidence in the humour of having unglamorous people stand around and lookperplexed or get annoyed. Yet that deadpan quality is consistently undercutwith ugly outbreaks of physical humour, as whenNacho's wrestling partner Esqueleto (Jimenez) hurls acorn cob into an attacker's eye socket.
Overall the sceneslack momentum and feel too anecdotal and isolated, while the characters areuninspired and cliched. Did anybody involved reallyhave that much interest in, let alone affection for, Mexican culture' Maybecomposer Danny Elfman, whose score has a fun,mariachi bounce. Desperate to be funny, NachoLibre resorts to trying to get a rise out of thecharacters' accented English, as when De la Reguerapronounces "puppy" like "poopy".
Worse,cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet photographs manyof the characters in unflattering, flattened-out close-up, while the make-up artists relish showing warts-and-all features at everyopportunity. Jimenez's character sprouts warts, looks filthy, has decrepittoenails and decaying teeth, and even smears - fake, presumably - faeces-like matter on his face.
Jack Blackclearly is the wrong actor for deadpan. Too often he is straitjacketed by Hess'approach and one can sense his frustration as his eyebrows push and pull andseem ready to explode as he wants to break character - and accent - and just gowild.
He finally gets achance toward the end when Nacho Libre finds his truestrength, fighting a thuggish goliath in gold tights named Ramses(Cesar Gonzalez). He hurls himself towards his opponent as if flying and it's agreat moment. It's this sort of moment that NachoLibre needs - and much less of the poopy.
Black & White Productions
Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess
Xavier Perez Grobet
Ana de la Reguera