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"Nacho Libre"

Directed by Jared Hess.
Written by Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess and Mike White.
Starring Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Héctor Jiménez and Cesar Gonzalez.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  6/09/06


When I first saw the trailer for "Nacho Libre"--the follow-up from "Napoleon Dynamite" writer/director Jared Hess--I laughed, but mostly I was a bit weirded out.  Jack Black, playing a Mexican wrestler named fucking Nacho?  Someone was actually trying to sell this?  But, as I watched the trailer again and again, I had to admit, this thing might actually be pretty good.  By the time I went to the DC Film Society's Trailer Night a few weeks ago, I was convinced of one thing:  the only three films this summer that are 100% slam dunks in my mind are "Miami Vice", "Snakes on a Plane" and "Nacho Libre."

And, with my buddy Yac right beside me, I caught a freebie for "Nacho Libre" Thursday night, and damn, was it funny.  Here's what should tell many of you all you need to know, especially if you know Michael "Yac" Iacovone: if he actually liked it, you KNOW it's a great movie, because Yac doesn't like anything.  For instance, Yac was able to admit prior to the movie that "Old School"--for my money, the best comedy of the new millennium--was just "pretty good."  To compare, Yac admitted that "Nacho Libre" would earn a $9.50 Show in his book.  (Note: easiest way to find a Nazi--ask him/her if they think "Old School" is a great movie.  The second they waver, call the cops.)

You know what "Nacho Libre" is about if you have seen any of the ads--a guy working in a Mexican orphanage/house of God, Ignacio (Jack Black), aspires to earn some money for his orphange by moonlighting as a wrestler.  So, with the help of a 115-pound petty thief named Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez), Ignacio--who goes by the nickname Nacho--and Esqueleto team up to form the region's worst tag-team twosome, wrestling with and losing to some of the best and worst the area has to offer.  All the while, Ignacio tries to win the heart of a new nun in the orphanage, Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera), who believes that wrestling is just about the biggest sin available.

The film starts slowly, but by the time we get going with the wrestling sequences, the laughs really start to roll downhill.  I'm not even sure where to start--the hilarious performance by Black, who works well under the right conditions; the right conditions here are a script by Hess and Mike White, who wrote the "School of Rock" screenplay, and the subtly deliberate style of Hess.  I'm trying to figure out the best way to explain this, but this style is a very careful mix of very structured storytelling--the wrestling matches and the intended romantic angles give you all that you need to build the story around--and the seemingly offbeat nature of the comedy in both "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Nacho Libre."  Example:  in one of the early wrestling matches (shown briefly in the film's trailer), Nacho and Esqueleto fight against two midgets.  Yes, midgets are funny.  Yes, you know that midgets should have no business wrestling full-sized adults.  But, Hess somehow makes this scene run for five minutes, making it get funnier as it goes along by slowly building its ridiculosity (yep, a word), inserts hilarious sound effects of eagles and hawks and other random birds flying around whenever someone jumps off the ropes into another wrestler, and inserts hilarious scream noises whenever Esqueleto gets scared.  I couldn't believe how hard I was laughing, and we're talking about something that shouldn't have worked for nearly as long as it does.  So much of this film is silly, weird, and uncomfortable, which strangely works with the material.  Just watching Esqueleto smile will elicit laughs in your theater, none more so than when he hands Encarnación a note and backs away from the door as if he is going to fly away with his arms.  Again, silly, stupid, strangely hilarious.

There are many other examples like this in the film, ones that I won't give away here but will certainly have you buzzing upon exiting the theater.  We also get random Jack Black moments like one near the film's conclusion, when he sings a song for Esqueleto that should honestly have a shot at winning an Oscar.  The cast is great, the casting of local Mexicans that have some of the most fucked-up grills in recent film history is genius, little touches like a black wrestler named El Snowflake are brilliant.  The score is so random that you have to stick around to the conclusion of the credits to hear a song that Black came up with about nothing at all; you'll also see a lot of credits to White & Black for songwriting but also some compositions by the artist Beck, adding to the off-kilter-osity (also a word).

"Nacho Libre" is generally just a really good film, one I actually liked more than "Napoleon Dynamite" because of the former's consistency after a slow start.  As good as Black is, he is not nearly as inspired a creation as Jon Heder's Napoleon character, but after these two efforts I can't wait to see what Jared Hess is going to give us next.  Did I mention that this is fun for the whole family?  Can PG films actually be this good?

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09