Thursday, June 22, 2006

Nacho Libre

Directed by Jared Hess
Written by Jared & Jerusha Hess and Mike White

Jared Hess is a sort of poor-man's Wes Anderson, or Wes Anderson Lite, or just plain not as good as Wes Anderson. Much like the fun absurdist director of Rushmore, Napoleon Dynamite's Hess finds humor in people being megalomaniacal, a drive which causes normal people to overextend themselves and exposing them for the idiots they are. The difference is, Anderson has things to say about it, and Hess just seems to think the trait is funny in of itself. Where there is dialogue in an Anderson flick, there's bizarre line-readings or even worse, in the case of this film, farts. Or when inspiration fails to hit, just let Jack Black do his Tenacious D schtick.

Hess was saved in Napoleon Dynamite by an unlikely iconical turn by Jon Heder. Without him, the movie would have never become the cult favorite it did. Now, operating on a script written by he and his brother and School of Rock scribe Mike White, with no real meaty character, his weaknesses are magnified. In this, a friar (Black) is a sort of runt in an Oaxaca, Mexico church, his only duty is to make food for the priesthood and some loveable orphans. But even that has become a joke, and now there's a gorgeous nun everyone would break their vows for, Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera), who he wants to impress. He decides to jump into the Lucha Libre wrestling matches and become a luchadore, raising money to provide better meals, but the matches are viewed as a sin by the church. He, along with his newfound friend Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez), they try to work their way up to fighting the ultimate pro (and asshole) Ramses (Cesar Gonzalez).

There are very good setups for wildly funny jokes in this movie, never paying off, never going the extra needed to get the good laughs. What Nacho Libre lacks is some mysticism, some belief in the otherworldly--strange considering it's a Mormon director at the helm. Stranger still is Nacho's characterization as one who likes to be in the church but doesn't like any of the rules set up by it--it would have been an interesting character study to see possibly a non-believer trying to make good within the church walls, and he either decides to quit or he actually finds God. But those aren't what the Hesses and White are interested in. It's all quirk and circumstance. And farts. Don't forget farts.


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