Black fights for laughs in 'Nacho Libre'

When it comes to cinematic sight gags, there are few images this summer that can rival Jack Black in Mexican wrestler's gear.

Already fashion-challenged because his character is poor, pudgy and an occupant of the 1970s, Black looks simply hilarious in his red-and-blue Lycra uniform. A tight-fitting mask provides no added menace as it barely covers his prepubescent-style mustache. The whole outfit somehow makes his unsightly body look even less streamlined.

Black plays Nacho, a friar who tries to financially bolster his beloved Mexican orphanage by joining a lucha libre (loosely translated as "free-fight") tournament. The priests look down upon the sport and those who partake in it as "false idols," so Nacho dons a mask to conceal his identity.

He tells an orphan who accidentally catches him changing into his costume, "When you are a man, sometimes you wear stretchy pants for fun."

Nobody in "Nacho Libre" seems to be having more fun than Black.

In his best roles (such as "The School of Rock" and "High Fidelity") the 36-year-old actor succeeds in convincing the viewer how sincere he is about his obsession du jour. Here, he fully conveys Nacho's passion for wrestling, Catholicism, orphans and his enchantment with the beautiful Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera), who has just arrived at the monastery.

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Paramount Pictures Photo

Jack Black plays a Catholic friar-turned-amateur Mexican wrestler who faces off against a feral opponent in the comedy "Nacho Libre."

Black's relentless energy carries this comedy a long way ... and it pretty much has to. Like filmmaker Jared Hess' previous project, the wildly overpraised "Napoleon Dynamite," the movie is too emotionally aloof to connect with the audience. Comedically, it's often too undisciplined to bridge the gap between setup and punch line.

Hess can be lumped in with Wes Anderson ("The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou") as part of that modern crop of directors who equate eccentricity with humor. He's skilled at creating a quirky environment but then struggles with how to utilize it.

Hess and his co-writer/wife Jerusha (a native of Olathe) are better at crafting vignettes than a solid narrative. They come up with funky bits such as a match pitting Nacho and his lanky partner Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez) against two "minis" - as they are called in luchadores lingo - who behave like feral Oompa-Loompas.

Movie

Nacho Libre **

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Few images this summer can rival the sight of Jack Black in Mexican wrestler's gear. The pudgy actor's relentless energy carries this comedy a long way ... and it pretty much has to. Like filmmaker Jared Hess' overpraised previous effort, "Napoleon Dynamite," the eccentric project is more a series of uneven vignettes than an actual movie.

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What is least appealing about the Hesses is the sense that they are always laughing "at" rather than "with" their characters - who, with the exception of Penelope Cruz look-alike de la Reguera, are composed of quite possibly the homeliest cast to land a slot in multiplexes this year.

The script is still a mild improvement over "Napoleon Dynamite" because it actually builds to a climax. In this case it's a somewhat conventional showdown between Nacho and the city's vain superstar Ramses (WCW headliner Cesar Gonzalez).

One particular scene really typifies the overall impact of the picture.

At a crucial moment before a match, Nacho breaks into a ballad that he wrote to express his fondness for Sister Encarnación. But his voice doesn't sound like that of a Mexican cook; it sounds exactly like golden-throated Jack Black in full Tenacious D mode.

A strong director - like, say, Peter Jackson of "King Kong" - would have said to Black, "No, you can't sing." But Hess isn't interested in his movie making thematic sense, even though there's already an earlier scene that shows Nacho being inept at singing. The filmmaker is merely riding his show-pony Black and hoping the actor's abilities are strong enough to keep things interesting.

Given this info, maybe Nacho would stand a much better chance at providing for the orphans if he'd ditch the mask and audition for "American Idol."

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Paramount Pictures Photo

Nacho (Jack Black), left, and his partner Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez) discuss how to break into the professional wrestling ranks in the comedy "Nacho Libre."

Comments

Kornphlake 14 years, 2 months ago

"Like filmmaker Jared Hess' previous project, the wildly overpraised "Napoleon Dynamite,"" After that statement I had to stop reading your review. There isn't a PG movie as funny as Napolean Dynamite anywhere. If you don't realize the comedic genius in that movie then I can't help but wonder why they allow you to review movies at all. I guess that it's par for the course with movie critics though, they hardly ever get anything right. Maybe Lawrence.com could find a movie reviewer that is in touch with the common person, if that actually exists.

bluerose 14 years, 2 months ago

i'm with you Kornphlake. as soon as he dissed N.D., i stopped taking the review seriously. i know i almost wet my pants at the preview and N.D. was one of the BEST PG comedies i have seen in a long time. somehow the combo of "undisciplined" corniness and tenderness and a humor that wasn't always obvious worked for me. thank god there was no Hallmark garbage to manipulate me to "connect". ugh!

i will disagree with you though, in that the review is probably more geared to the "common person". be grateful you are UN-common. you will probably laugh to know i am a middleaged (uncommon) woman. but i have a STRONG inner boy! i can't WAIT to see Nacho Libre.

CheyenneWay 14 years, 2 months ago

I hate orphans. I hate all the orphans of the world. I would not recommend this movie if you hate orphans.

bthom37 14 years, 2 months ago

It's strange; every review of this you read feels the need to discuss Napoleon Dynamite. It's not Napoleon Dynamite, fer cryin' out loud!

It's also not as good as ND, but it's enjoyable, based on the fact that Jack Black is freakin hilarious. He's got a very expressive face, and uses it to his advantage, particularly during the singing before the match that Niccum mentions.

sibkiss 14 years, 1 month ago

Just another white guy sell-out to gain favor for and mucho dinero from the Hispanic community. Why are they so special?

Next thing we must have on the agenda is a white guy playing an Middle eastern Indian Hindu or Pakistani Zorastrian hero...lets say, Will Farrell with a buckt of face paint? That's worth a lot of rupees at the box office.

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