Nacho Libre

Nacho Libre
Directed by: Jared Hess
Written by: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, Mike White
Starring: Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Hector Jimenez, Cesar Gonzalez

Before heading into the theatre to see Nacho Libre, one might ask an important question: how does a director follow up a movie like Napoleon Dynamite? As one of the runaway independent hits of 2004, the movie has gone on to develop a huge and rabid cult following. By the time the movie hit DVD, Napoleon Dynamite quotes were flying left and right, and Jon Heder had somehow become an unlikely MTV poster boy.

Now it’s time for filmmaker Jared Hess to prove that he was not just a one-hit wonder… but with a bigger budget and a well-known star, could he still produce the same kind of contagious and weird comedy? Or is it simply unrealistic to expect another breakout hit? Having Jack Black on board as an overweight Mexican wrestler certainly seemed like a stroke of genius, and the elements were in place for Nacho Libre to become another cult classic. I mean, how could you possibly take such a concept and make it unfunny? Well, just watch the movie and you’ll find out.

Despite the potential for hilarity, somehow Hess finds a way to stifle Black’s creativity and fails to deliver on the film’s premise. Maybe he was trying too hard, or maybe it just wasn’t a concept that could work for 90 minutes. Whatever the reason, Nacho Libre was a definite let down. If you go into this movie looking for another Napoleon Dynamite, you’re not going to find it.

That’s not to say that Nacho Libre doesn’t bear many of the same trademarks to Hess’ last movie. In terms of the visual style, silly humour, and even the basic plot, it’s not hard to spot similarities. Nacho is a young orphan who was raised at a monastery, and now works as a cook there. But he dreams of one day becoming a wrestler, and when a Lucha Libre tournament is advertised in town, he recruits a tag team partner and moonlights as the masked luchadore Nacho Libre. He plans to use the money he wins to help out the orphanage, but he also secretly hopes to impress the beautiful Sister Encarnación. The movie is loosely based on the true story of Fray Tormenta, a Mexican priest who secretly wrestled to make money for his orphanage.

One question that may be worth raising here is whether or not Jared Hess has a Mexican background. He certainly has a weird, kitschy fascination with Mexican culture, first with Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite, and now an entire movie about luchadores. This movie was cast almost exclusively with lesser known Mexican actors and real wrestlers, and although it’s nice to see a lot of outside talent being given a chance to shine, I have to wonder if Hess’ only goal was to milk unintentional humour from their accents. I’m not saying the movie is racist, but only that Hess seems to think that exagerrated Mexican culture is inherently funny, which is not the case (particularly not when everyone in the movie is Mexican except for Jack Black). He also assumes that the campy and playful world of Mexican wrestling will bring automatic laughs, without realizing that you need something more to keep people watching.

Believe it or not, Nacho Libre was a lot more outlandish than Napoleon Dynamite. The world is very cartoony from the start, and for a movie that is supposed to be loosely based on a true story, it’s pretty hard to actually believe that any of this really happened. The movie was shot on location in Mexico, but it doesn’t feel like it. Everything looks artificial, as though it was shot on a set somewhere, and never really gets across the feeling of authenticity that Hess was going for.

There is nothing to ground the ridiculousness of it all, no straight characters to play off of. The closest we have is Nacho’s love interest Sister Encarnación (played by Ana de la Reguera), who mostly seems oblivious to Nacho’s bizarre behaviour. It’s hard to identify with the characters in this movie, whereas Napoleon Dynamite connected with viewers because we all knew a nerdy kid like that in high school.

Nacho Libre also lacks the full assortment of funny characters that Napoleon Dynamite had (think what that movie would have been like without Pedro and Deb, Kip and Uncle Rico). In Nacho Libre, the only interesting character is Nacho himself, and while Jack Black has some decent moments, he seemed some what surpressed in this movie. I think his outrageous and over the top comedic style may have been ill-suited for the tone of the movie. Hess wants to get the most out of awkward silences, subtle one-liners and facial expressions, but Black needs room to work his magic and doesn’t do well with muted characters (you can briefly see the contrast when he lets loose and explodes into song near the end of the movie).

Nacho’s sidekick Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez) brought very little to the movie in my opinion. With the exception of his skinny and dishevelled appearance, he was not amusing in the least.

The sad truth is that Nacho Libre doesn’t have many truly funny moments. There were, however, a handful of fart jokes and some typical slapstick humour which served as an unfortunate reminder that this is, in fact, a Nickelodeon movie.

I did like the cinematography and some of the music (which is apparently a disorganized jumble of scores written separately by Danny Elfman and Beck, although neither of them wanted to be associated with the project when all was said and done). Mostly though, it just seems like Hess was trying too hard to be quirky, and the movie ends up falling flat.

Younger viewers may enjoy the movie for its kooky visuals, and die-hard Napoleon Dynamite fans can probably force themselves to laugh at it if they try hard enough, but for everyone else Nacho Libre will be a disappointment. Knowing that Napoleon Dynamite’s popularity took time to build, this could be a movie that works better with repeat viewings. The problem is, there are no memorable one-liners and no classic characters (save for one) worth making action figures out of. I can’t, in good conscience, award Nacho Libre any more than 2 out of 4 flying elbow drops to the head. — Sean

SCORE: 2 stars

Recommended If You Like: Napoleon Dynamite, Rushmore, Shallow Hal

  • i give it 3 out of 4.

    its charming, silly, innocent, and fun…

    and like I said when I would defend Zoolander, Starsky and Hutch, and Napoleon Dynamite – this is a film that doesnt rely on swearing or so called ‘edgy’ teen sex humor…

    its an original story, not a sequel or prequel, with 99% unknowns, and for the most part for me it worked. its not as good as Napoleon, nor as quotable, but it was about as good as I expected.

    the only disappointment was that so many of the best parts were in the trailer. Had I not seen a trailer I’d have enjoyed this much more… theres a downside to having a kickass trailer – it raises expectations…

    And I do think this is going to a be a movie that is better on repeat views….

  • Chopper

    i give this flick 1 out of 4, i found it to have a few funny parts but not enough for me. i was actually looking at my watch to see how much longer i would have to sit there.

  • Josh Young

    This review is insane!!….Nacho Libre was easily one of the funniest movies i have ever seen!!! Lines to quote out the wazzoo!! I saw it 3 times in 9 days!

  • Josh Young

    hmmm..”no memorable one liners”…

    you must have been sedated when you watched this movie…where do i begin…

    “Chancho!? when you are a man, sometimes you wear stretchy pants when you are alone in your room. It’s for fun.”

    “Nacho where is your robe?” “It was….estinky. These are my recreation clothes.”

    “Chancho! I need to borrow some swaaaits!”

    ” I know these clothes may give the appearance of riches. but beneath the clothes, we find the man, and beneath the man, we find his…nucleus.”

    I just thought…it might be, a good idea, if you were baptized!” (dunks escelito’s head in bowl of water)

    “I was wondering if you might like to join me later in my quarters….for some toast.”

    “Did you not tell him they were the Lord chips”

    “Ive had the ria since easters”

    “I’m sick of these duties…cooking duty…dead guy..duty….maybe its time for me to get a better duty!”

    …the list goes on.

    I don’t know what people expected from this movie….just look at jack black’s facial expressions through out…makes you wanna poop yourself!

  • Jay

    Hey..take it easssy!

    Easily one of the best and original films of the summer.

    Light, funny and with a heart of gold – can’t find many films like this anymore.

    As Nacho would say – Iss da besss!

  • Anthony

    “it is…especially delicious.”

    I definatly give this movie at least 3-4. The main probably with this reveiw is that you’re trying to compare it with Napoleon Dynamite, and you were expecting another Napoleon. Instead look at the movie as an original, very funny movie with lots of simple yet funny jokes complimented with a an ending even better than Napolen…and seriously, how can you say there are no memorable phrases?

    and this is also a movie that you can watch over and over again. After seeing Napoleon for the 3rd time i wanted throw up because it was so annoying, and the jokes had gotten so old so fast.I’ve seen Nacho 6 times already, and it still brings a smile to my face and makes me feel “real nice” inside at the end.

    …and for all of those who are a fan of Nacho like me, “high-five”

  • dude

    and yet you are also comparing it to napoleon. Think of it as an original.

    Anthony is a moron

  • Jay recently rewatched it on DVD and told me that he liked it a lot more the second time. I can see it being a movie that needs to grow on you (Napoleon was the same way for a lot of people) but I still think no matter what it will remain a bit of disappointment for me.

  • Julia

    I loved it! It was cute, original and heartwarming.
    It’s true, the more you watch it the more you like it
    and it is good for a laugh when you need one. I just
    love that Jack Black and the other leading man his partner. I thought it was great and I think many others do and it is becoming a cult classic of it’s own.