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Nacho Libre (A Movie Review)


Starring Jack Black, Hector Jimenez, Ana de la Reguera, Darius Rose, Moises Arias, Eduardo Gomez, Carlos Maycotte, Richard Montoya, Cesar Gonzalez, Peter Stormare, Rafael Montalvo and Julio Sandoval.

Screenplay by Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess and Mike White.

Directed by Jared Hess.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 92 minutes. Rated PG.

Sometimes a movie is such a train wreck that you can't help but wonder what the hell they were thinking. Which is a bit of a surprise in this case, because Nacho Libre does have a lot of talented people behind it.

It was co-written and directed by Jared Hess, the mastermind behind the polarizing Napoleon Dynamite. I have never seen it – in honesty I've kind of actively avoided it because the little clips I did see looked beyond stupid – but I know that many people have assured me that it is one of the funniest movies ever. I think I can pretty safely say no one will ever make that assessment of Nacho Libre, though.

One of his co-writers was Mike White, the respected scribe behind Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl and School of Rock. White's friend (and star of the last film) Jack Black plays the main character.

Black, who is always an unbridled force of nature as an actor, is oddly muzzled here. His character of Ignacio is a friar who cooks for orphan children in a tiny monastery in Mexico. However, he has a deep secret, he is a huge fan of Lucha Libre, Mexico's flamboyant equivalent of professional wrestling. In fact, he dreams of becoming a Luchador, one of the masked wrestlers, despite the fact that it is considered ungodly in the school.

Ignacio finally takes a chance as a luchador using the nickname Nacho Libre, teaming up with an incredibly thin and odd-looking petty thief (Hector Jiminez) to become a tag team. Their training has nothing to do with... you know... wrestling, instead they throw feces, get attacked by bees, climb cliffs to drink from eagle eggs. No wonder they always lose. During the scenes -- and there are tons of them – when Nacho and his little friend contemplate giving up on wrestling, the audience can't help but agree with this idea, because they obviously have no talent at the sport.

The running gags are weak. The food is so bad that no one can stand to eat it. Ooh, that's original... Jack Black is fat. Yeah, so what of it? Ignacio and his partner have periodic debates of faith vs. science. However, they never go deeper with it, they just play lip service to the ideas without exploring them. The other characters will say things just to set off plot devices and then change their minds completely with no particular rhyme or reason.

There is an odd love interest here, Ignacio is quietly in courtly love with Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera), undoubtedly the most attractive nun in the world. Yes, that's right, a romantic tango between a friar and a nun! Heightening the icky factor, the head friar of the monastery also seems to be fantasizing about her and chastely making his own advances. Of course, recognizing they are far out on a limb here, the movie just allows this thread to sort of simmer without ever coming to a real resolution. Ignacio makes it clear that he would be interested in giving up his vow of celibacy for her, but other than a brief, somewhat inscrutable scene where she reads his love note in her bed clothes, we never totally know what she feels about him. Yes, she respects his devotion to the orphans – but is that love? We never really know, not that we necessarily want to.

Ignacio is mostly a quiet, shy and courtly man, which is going against type for Jack Black. It's certainly fine for Black to play someone more subtly (in fact, I'd like to see him try it in a better film), however this movie is not subtle, nor is the subject matter. Therefore, Ignacio's hushed, intense drama borders on stilted.

For a PG-rated film, Nacho Libre has a strange, harsh mean streak, laughing at people in pain. At different points, characters in the movie get cold-cocked by car doors, attacked by a hive of bees, hit with an arrow, impaled by corn-on-a-cob, hit on by a fat woman, gored by a stomping bull and generally have the crap beaten out of them. How funny a viewer finds all of this mayhem and torture would probably tell you an awful lot more about that person's mental stability than it does about the movie. (10/06)

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved. Posted: October 22, 2006.

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