Nacho Libre [DVD]
Director : Jared Hess
Screenplay : Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess & Mike White
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Jack Black (Nacho), Ana de la Reguera (Sister Encarnación), Héctor Jiménez (Esqueleto), Darius Rose (Chancho), Moises Arias (Juan Pablo), Eduardo Gómez (Chuy), Carlos Maycotte (Segundo Nuñez), Richard Montoya (Guillermo), Cesar Gonzalez (Ramses)
Much like Jared Hess’s first feature, Napoleon Dynamite (2004), Nacho Libre is a film that I don’t think you can (or should) “get” entirely on the first screening. With a similarly dry mix of lethargic pacing, deadpan-quirky humor, and retro styling, it seems calculated to annoy those who aren’t tuned into its admittedly off-kilter wavelength and only reward those who return to it again and again, picking up the details and internalizing its odd worldview.
Working again with his wife/co-screenwriter Jerusha, as well as indie scribe Mike White (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl), Hess has crafted an obliquely comic ode to underdog sports movies, setting his small-scale saga south of the border in a dusty monastery/orphanage. The protagonist is Ignacio (Jack Black), a frustrated friar who has dreamed since childhood of becoming a luchador, a Mexican wrestler, named Nacho, replete with a mask and “stretchy pants.” He is a somewhat unwilling man of the cloth, especially since his priestly duties are restricted entirely to cooking black bean slop for the orphans (although the one time he is allowed to visit a sick man, he mistakenly assumes the man to be dead and performs final rites).
Black’s casting as Nacho is both brilliant and somehow off. With his ruddy boyish face, arching Jack Nicholson eyebrows, and constant gleam of mayhem in his eyes, Black has typically been cast as a rampaging id, and to stuff him down in a brown friar’s robe seems almost wrong. Yet, Black is not in any way neutered; rather, he turns all that energy inward and lets it rip once he’s in the ring, finally becoming his character’s dream version of himself. Black’s worst moments in the movie are when Hess allows him to overwhelm the character, such as a scene in which he sings a tune he concocted for the lovely new nun at the orphanage (doe-eyed Penélope Cruz look-alike Ana de la Reguera), and we are suddenly aware that we’re watching the crazed frontman of Tenacious D, not a sweet-natured, but deeply confused monk.
To make his wrestling dreams come true, Nacho partners with Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez), a bony street urchin whose tall, lanky frame is the absolute inverse of Nacho’s short, squat, pudgy body. They train together, although their methods, which include rubbing cow manure on each other’s faces and launching melons at each other’s bodies, make no sense except as absurdist parody of the underdog sports genre’s incessant need for a rah-rah training sequence. In the ring they face down a number of oddball opponents, including a pair of ravenous, hairy pygmies that seem to have escaped from someone’s nightmare. Nacho and Esqueleto aren’t any good, but they make money anyway because the audiences like them, which Nacho uses to buy better ingredients so the orphans can eat cleverly constructed salads rather than undefined slop.
It’s really hard to say if Nacho Libre is any good or not. I laughed--sometimes quite uproariously, but more often than not it was a head-shaking chuckle under my breath--but I was also aware that the movie’s jokiness starts wearing thin by the end, even if you’re in tune with it. Hess seems to be captivated with the idea that Spanish accents are funny, especially when combined with a slight lisp (as evidenced by Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite), but it’s hard not to feel at times that some of his laugh-at-Mexican-poverty vibe is just wrong. Nevertheless, Nacho Libre has an underlying sweetness to it that transcends some of its more callous cultural joking. Even though the movie is a parody, you might just find yourself rooting for Nacho’s underdog spirit anyway, if only for him to reconcile his religious beliefs with his love of a violent sport.
|Nacho Libre Special Collector’s Edition DVD|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 17, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The anamorphic widescreen transfer of Nacho Libre is really quite beautiful. The transfer makes good on the film’s heavy, deeply saturated colors (lots of reds and sun-drenched yellows) and strong contrast. While a few scenes look a tad soft (especially the darker scenes), overall the image is sharp and well-detailed, which will reward those who return to the film again and again to find all the tiny visual jokes in the set design and costumes. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewise solid, with good separation for the soundtrack’s quirky songs and use of the surround speakers to envelop you during the wrestling sequences.|
|The screen-specific audio commentary by actor Jack Black, director Jared Hess and writer Mike White is much like the movie itself: sporadic, random, oddly amusing, but ultimately just silly. There’s not a whole lot of interesting information imparted (although they are good at catching continuity errors), so the commentary’s ultimate value lies in how much you enjoy listening to Black, Hess, and White casually shooting the breeze. When played back-to-back, the five featurettes--“Detrás de la Cámara,” “Jack Black Unmasked!” (which was originally aired on Nickelodeon), “Lucha Libra,” “Hecho in Mexico,” and “Moviefone Unscripted with Jack Black and Héctor Jimenéz”--total nearly an hour of screen time. There is plenty of behind-the-scenes footage (much of which involves Jack Black goofing off), as well as interviews with many of those involved in making the film. Two other featurettes under the heading “Jack Sings” feature (what else?) Jack Black rehearsing and shooting the two songs he performs in the film. There are three deleted scenes, two of which feature Ramses and are extremely short (less than a minute each). However, there is a lengthy sequence running almost six minutes that involves Peter Stormare’s Gypsy Emperor and ends with Jack Black in a dress covered with live pigeons. That one has to be seen to be believed. Lastly, the disc has three photo galleries (“On Set,” “Luchadores,” and “Nacho Especial”) and three television spots.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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