Overlooking “Nacho Libre?” You don’t know Jack
Someone recently commented to me that despite his best efforts he couldn’t convince his young son to appreciate the humor behind “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” And that’s comedy for you. A generation has grown up quoting that medieval send-up, and in the process has elevated it beyond mere cult status. But if you don’t get it, no amount of argument will convert you.
The same will likely be said for years to come of “Napoleon Dynamite,” the indie darling that relied almost solely on word of mouth to earn upward of $100 million. Yet a good portion of the people who have seen it think it’s the stupidest movie ever.
Despite its better story, a less random set of jokes, some great wrestling action sequences, and a comedic performance from Jack Black that is worthy of an Oscar nomination, “Nacho Libre” won’t make believers out of the anti-Napoleon crowd. And it might make considerably less money.
It doesn’t make sense. You’ve got “Napoleon’s” director Jared Hess, working with his screenwriter wife Jersusha and “School of Rock” author Mike White, and perhaps Hollywood’s most self-deprecating, committed comedy actor on board. How can this team lose? The answer is: It can’t.
Beyond its sight gags and kitschy camp appeal, “Nacho Libre” is a comedy that earns its underdog ambitions. While it might not be as quotable as some cult classics, it does so many little things right that it might actually get overlooked and over time be underrated.
Consider the sight of Black as Brother Ignacio in blue stretch leotard under scarlet underpants, prodigious belly, curly hair, and wormy mustache who longs for a life beyond the monastery. Yes, the fearless actor will get laughs for his goofball posing, random flatulence, and tireless Mexicanized articulation– hilarious bits to be sure. But beyond the surface lies Black’s genius, and the film’s true inspiration. Black gives us a character at once repellant yet humbly sympathetic as he strives to become a champion luchador and raise money for the orphan boys whom he (literally) serves.
Along the way he meets the pretty Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera-not look-a-like Penelope Cruz), and a tag-team partner the skinny, dentally-challenged Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez).
Only occasionally does the tone veer from gentle to anything approaching grotesque (watch how a chili-peppered corncob on a stick can be a lethal weapon), and Hess’ ability to find hordes of oddball characters who are hilarious just being themselves is a rare talent. To top it off, the wrestling scenes are engaging, believable and better choreographed than most of the pretentious chicanery of the WWF. The film’s setting in Oaxaca, Mexico gives the film a low budget, throwback feel. And the music is great too.
As he showed in “School of Rock,” no one else besides Black could make this film soar. Both figuratively, and as we learn in the film’s climax, quite literally.
Rated PG for cartoon violence and innuendo