Saturday, June 17, 2006

Movie Review: "Nacho Libre"

Starring Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Héctor Jiménez, Darius Rose, Moises Arias
Directed by Jared Hess

Official Web site

In his sophomore effort, “Nacho Libre” director Jared Hess has concocted a movie that is by turns funny, odd, sweet-natured, and above all else, ridiculous. The heartbeat of the film is star Jack Black, who provides a physical and wildly expressive performance that shows a willingness to do anything for a laugh. Through his sheer force of will, he makes the film better than it probably has any right to be.

Undoubtedly, the storyline of “Nacho Libre” is an unusual one and generally stretched thin just to reach its 91-minute running time. Black plays Ignacio (Nacho becomes his wrestling name), a monk at a monastery in Oaxaca, Mexico, who is a hit with the orphaned children living there, despite the poor quality of food he prepares for them every day.

He’s also a huge fan of lucha libre wrestling – a fact he keeps hidden from his fellow monks, who don’t seem to respect him much in the first place. Riding into town one night on his transportation (imagine a cross between a motorcycle and a shopping cart), he is attacked by Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez), a rail-thin thief. The encounter inspires Ignacio to recruit Esqueleto to become his tag team partner in the wrestling ring, an arrangement that begins to produce money for the duo along with fairly regular beatings. The two demonstrate high energy in the ring, yet little discernible skill.

The wrestling scenes, while generally well shot, don’t generate many laughs and tend to grow redundant and predictable as the film wears on. Better results involve Nacho’s unusual attempts at impressing Sister Encarnacion (Penelope Cruz lookalike Ana de la Reguera), a new arrival at the monastery. One sequence of events has Nacho asking to have the nun join him for some late night toast, later awkwardly sliding said toast under her door, and then getting invited into the room to noisily eat the food. If you can visualize the odd humor in that, then you’ll probably find it funny on screen.

Much like his first feature, “Napoleon Dynamite,” Hess demonstrates some pacing difficulties as director. Some scenes seem to exist for no reason, other than to generate a laugh or two, while others simply drag on beyond the point of effectiveness. For that matter, the script by Hess, wife Jerusha Hess and Mike White (a collaborator with Black on “The School of Rock”) doesn’t seem that comfortable with developing the supporting cast, as few scenes exist without Black.

But then again, Black is clearly the best thing the movie has going for it, as the overweight actor shows no self-consciousness in looking and acting as a fool. With a fashion ensemble that includes a cape and colorful “stretchy pants,” Nacho is a wild physical specimen. Even more impressive are Black’s seemingly endless facial expressions, maybe best captured when explaining to the orphans how “great” his life is, waking up at 5 a.m. to cook and going to sleep alone every night.

While some people might be put off by Black’s brand of humor, which certainly can’t be labeled as subtle, his comic muscles certainly get a chance to be showcased as Nacho. Whether you can stand to watch him flex them is another story.

Grade: B
(Rated PG for some rough action and crude humor including dialogue.)

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