“Nacho Libre” another lamentable curiosity

by Eric Melin on June 15, 2006

in Print Reviews

Ever since “Napoleon Dynamite” was elevated to major cult favorite status, people’s expectations for writer/director Jared Hess’ follow-up effort have been high.  That movie is here, and “Nacho Libre” throws in the raucous energy of Jack Black and the unusual setting of a Mexican monastery and low-rent wrestling arenas. On paper, you’ve got an intriguing and possibly very funny movie.

But it’s not high expectations that kill the tepid “Nacho Libre,” it’s a thin premise (that might have made a funny short film), padded out again to feature-length.  The same goes for “Napoleon Dynamite,” a curious movie with some genuinely funny moments spread out over a plot less and tedious 82 minutes.  At a long 18 minutes more, “Nacho Libre” wears out the initial goodwill and promise that its enthusiastic star created in the first place.

The “La Decepcion Grande”

Stylistically, Hess and Black are involved in a strange tug-of-war, as the director tries to keep the humor absurd and bone dry like he did in “Napoleon,” while the actor is constantly stifling the urge to explode. The result is an uncomfortable hybrid that seems to be alternately disinterested and trying too hard to make you laugh at the same time. 

“Napoleon Dynamite” had less of a story than the fabric in Nacho’s wrestling tights, and by bringing in co-writer Mike White (“The School of Rock”), it looked as if Hess and his wife Jerusha were looking to change that with this movie.  Unfortunately, by hanging its oddball characters on the most obvious of plots, it dilutes the weirdness that would have made it unique. The screenplay is a completely standard misfit-makes-good story with no surprises, unsuccessfully disguised by its novel surroundings. 

With an accent so bad that it’s almost charming, Black plays a cook who grew up in a monastery, but never stopped dreaming of becoming a famous luchador.  The money he makes by night as masked wrestler Nacho goes to better food for the orphans, but he must also earn the respect of the beautiful Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera), who knows that wrestling is forbidden by the church.

There a couple of funny non-sequitur moments, but mostly the story follows exactly what you would expect, eliciting a few chuckles along the way.  “Nacho Libre” is too good-natured a film to be hated, but it is a letdown all the same.  It is refreshing to see a comedy go for a different kind of humor, one with no profanity or sex. So when the onslaught of poop and fart humor that’s in every other comedy these days begins, it’s really just too bad.

Not only is there talk of diarrhea, but there is also feces smeared on the face, butt-flexing, and numerous hearty beefs.  Sometimes this can be funny, but in “Nacho Libre” is seems like a desperate attempt to goose up the laugh count in a movie that never gets as many as it should.

Does Nacho become a professional wrestler? Does he save the poor monastery from awful meals? Does he impress the nun of his dreams?  What do you think?  It is impossible to care when such an already simple story is undermined by an almost complete lack of interest on the part of the director.  Hess has a knack for shooting outdoor locations and unadorned sets, and the cinematography sometimes recalls Wes Anderson’s artfully framed shots, but the only person driving anything forward is Black.  In the end, he abandon’s Nacho almost completely, relying on his Tenacious D “J.B.” persona a little too much, and leaving “Nacho Libre” another lamentable curiosity from Hess.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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