Nacho Libre review by Mike Long

To the best of my knowledge, the term "sophomore slump" is typically applied to musicians. This refers to the common trend where an artist's second effort is disappointing when compared to their first. (I always attribute this to changes made while touring to promote their debut project.) But, I guess the theory can be applied to movies as well. When a young filmmaker has a hit first film, everyone waits to see what their next project will be and whether or not they will fall on their face. Nacho Libre is the sophomore effort from writer/director Jared Hess, the creator of the cult hit Napoleon Dynamite. Will Hollywood change the oddball humor found in that film?

Jack Black stars in Nacho Libre as Ignacio. Growing up in an orphanage, Ignacio dreamt of being a luchadore, a Mexian wrestler. Now an adult, Ignacio is a brother in the orphanage, and works as a cook. Due to a limited budget, the food consists mainly of a brown gruel and day-old tortilla chips. However, Ignacio still harbors his dreams of being a famous wrestler. Then, two amazing things happen. Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera), a beautiful nun, comes to teach at the orphanage and Ignacio is instantly attracted to her. Also, when Ignacio goes to get the chips, a wiry young man, Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez), jumps him and steals the chips. These events, combined with seeing a wrestler being mobbed in the street, change Ignacio's life.

He tracks down Esqueleto, and convinces the young man that they should team up and be luchadores. Ignacio makes a costume and a mask and becomes Nacho, the masked luchadore. Although they aren't very good at wrestling, Nacho and Esqueleto are popular with the crowd, and Ignacio realizes that he can buy better food for the orphans with the wrestling money. Also, the confidence that he gains from wrestling give him the courage to pursue Encarnacion. But, fame goes to Ignacio's head and he decides that he will attempt to become a professional wrestler.

Among many other things, one of the elements which made Napoleon Dynamite unique (or annoying depending on your point of view) was the truly odd pacing of the comedy. Director Jared Hess likes to introduce odd dialogue in the midst of a fairly normal conversation and he also leans towards shooting montages which employ a strange use of zoom lenses. I wondered if he would use this approach for Nacho Libre. After all, this is a $30 million studio film starring Jack Black, not an independent movie. The short answer is, yes, Hess uses his Napoleon Dynamite style throughout the film, but it's been jammed with the entity that is Jack Black. And there you have the essence of Nacho Libre -- it's two movies in one, and you may enjoy both, one, or neither.

As with Napoleon Dynamite, Hess (along with co-screenwriters Jerusha Hess and Mike White), pulls us into a pre-existing world with little introduction to the characters or situations. We learn little about Ignacio's past and there is basically no explanation for the world of Mexican wrestling -- this idea is presented to the audience and it's up to them to keep up. As noted above, Hess incorporates some odd humor here. His comedy is never intellectual or highbrow. It involves strangely worded lines and pratfalls. (I find it interesting that Hess doesn't indulge in profanity or sex in his films, but using unprovoked violence for laughs is OK.) Essentially, we get odd characters saying and doing odd things. This is interspersed with highly choreographed wrestling matches and a host of colorful wrestlers.

Into this world, Jack Black has been thrust. To be blunt, this is odd casting. If you've ever seen Black in anything, then you're familiar with his whirling dervish style of comedy where he incorporates strange speech-patterns and facial expressions that are the opposite of subtle. As Ignacio, Black is constantly going in and out of character (or what I assume the character is meant to be). His accent slips at times, and he goes from calm to manic throughout. He sings two songs in the film, one which fits the scene and the other which is a Jack Black song, pure and simple.

If Nacho Libre sounds like a scattershot film, then you've hit the nail on the head. I liked Napoleon Dynamite and I like Jack Black, so I hoped to like the movie. And, I did find myself laughing out loud several times. But, I couldn't really tell you why I was laughing. The wrestling scenes are interesting, but are nothing special. Overall, the characters, even Igncaio, aren't very appealing. When I first watched Napoleon Dynamite, I came away bewildered and feeling as if I'd missed something. Upon seeing the film again, I appreciated it more. I didn't have this reaction to Nacho Libre. I felt that the film had some funny moments, but that it was very lightweight and everything was right there on the surface.

Again, Nacho Libre is a tough call. If you like Jack Black, you'll find some things to like. If you liked Napoleon Dynamite, you'll recognize the humor. And if you're a fan of Lucha Librea, you'll appreciate the respect the sport gets in the film. And yet, the movie is so fragmented that it can't be wholly satisfying for anyone.

Nacho Libre fights its way onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The movie has come to DVD in two separate releases, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks pretty good, as the picture is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The colors here are very good, most notably Nacho's red and blue suit. The image has a nice amount of depth in the landscape scenes, but does lack some detail in closeups. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which brings us clear dialogue and sound effects. Stereo effects are notably good. The rear speakers and the subwoofer come to life during the wrestling scenes, but there isn't a great deal of separation or detail in the surround effects.

The Nacho Libre has several extra features, most of which are disappointing. The disc offers an AUDIO COMMENTARY with co-writer/director Jared Hess, co-writer Mike White, and star Jack Black. They have their talk over dinner. The problem with this talk is that you've got three funny guys describing their movie. Thus, they are rarely serious. Sure, there are some funny moments here, especially from Black, but we learn very little about the making of the film (although they do identify every actor who was at the premiere). "Detras de la Camara" (29 minutes) is made up of on-location footage showing the shooting of several key scenes. This behind-the-scenes action is mingled with comments from the cast and crew. "Jack Black Unmasked!" (13 minutes) is a featurette from Nickelodeon which repeats some of the footage from the previous featurette. But, it does have a nice tutorial on Lucha Libre and we do get to see Jack Black get his chest waxed. "Lucha Libre" (3 minutes) is an incredibly uninformative look at the sport. "Hecho en Mexico" (2 minutes) gives an overview of what it was like to shoot in Mexico. The two main wrestlers in the film interview one another in "Moviefone Unscripted with Jack Black and Hector Jimenez" (9 minutes), which yields some funny comments. We get behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage of Black singing the two songs from the film in "Jack Sings". The DVD contains 3 DELETED SCENES, but one is actually a deleted subplot, as it contains over 8 minutes of footage not seen in the finished film. The extras are rounded out by 3 PROMO SPOTS and a PHOTO GALLERY.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

blog comments powered by Disqus