Nacho Libre – Movie Review (**)

(Originally posted on 7-2-06)

Let me state right up front that I absolutely loathed Napoleon Dynamite. I found it petty, cynical and mean spirited. There were, however, moments of extreme promise, but they felt more like happy little accidents than anything else – moments that the filmmakers weren’t even aware of, let alone how they happened – which only increased my ire at the movie itself.

And believe me, I tried to give it a chance, I saw it almost 2 and a half times (I walked out of the second viewing about 20 minutes in and forced myself to suffer through Without a Paddle instead – the last viewing was on DVD as a team building event, it was their choice and me, being the great boss that I am, gave in to their misguided desire). Having said that, please believe me when I say that I went into Nacho Libre with relatively positive expectations.

I really enjoyed School of Rock. It was a fun, sweet movie. And my expectation with Nacho Libre was that since it had the same core creative group involved (Actor Jack Black and Writer Mike White) it had a chance to surprise and deliver on a fairly entertaining and promising premise.

However, I failed to appropriately take into account the involvement of Director/Writer Jared Hess and his wife/Co-Writer Jerusha Hess, the core creative team behind Napoleon Dynamite; a movie that, again, I honestly really wanted to like, but one that just didn’t work – not as a movie, not as a character piece, not as sketch comedy, not as anything. And I am baffled – BAFFLED, I say – that it was absolutely as successful as it turned out to be. Basically, what I am trying to say here is that Jared and Jerusha hit the movie-making lottery. …and in their sophomore effort showed that they didn’t learn a thing from it.

Jack Black is Ignacio, a friar in a small church in Mexico in charge of feeding the little orphan children, but what he really wants to do is wrestle. The movie is supposedly a tribute to “Lucha Libre”, a form of pro-wrestling in Mexico that is wildly popular and with which I can’t say that I am terribly familiar. Really quickly, Ignazio is torn between his loves of: his faith – which looks down on wrestling as being from the devil, his love for a beautiful nun (Ana De La Reguera) – who is totally dedicated to her nun-things, and his love of wrestling – in which he teams up with a throw away character (Hector Jimenez) as his wrestling partner to try and win the grand prize to pay for better groceries to feed the orphans.

The problem here that is most frustrating is that there is no growth of the characters. Jack Black is fun as Nacho, but his tendency to overact is in direct opposition to Jared Hess’s dead pan style of direction. All of the other characters are lifeless and have no real history or inner life that can shed any light onto their motivations. So, what we get is the same thing we had in Napoleon Dynamite, a loosely related string of scenes in which actors go through the motions and a central character that acts weird for no other reason than it is supposed to be funny to laugh at him for being weird. The plus that Nacho Libre has over Napoleon Dynamite of course is that Jack Black can act and he can engage an audience with the force of his personality, making the overall product slightly more palatable as a whole – something Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite himself) was unable to do.

Let me wrap up by admitting that some of my opinion of both movies (Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite) might be slightly tainted by a bit of sour grapes that the Hess’s are living the dream and I still haven’t finished a commercially viable project… but I don’t think so.

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