[box cover]

Nacho Libre

Jared Hess' follow up to the pop culture phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is an obvious relative to the writer/director's earlier sleeper hit, and while that may be enough to please fans of his unorthodox debut, Nacho Libre (2006) is unlikely to enhance his appeal and find a wider audience. Jack Black stars as Ignacio, a crude and dimwitted friar at the same poor Mexican orphanage where he was raised. A social outcast within the very closed community of his peers, Ignacio relates only to the children and harbors dreams of becoming a champion luchador — a professional wrestler — the best of whom, Ramses, is the biggest celebrity around. When beautiful nun Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera) arrives at the orphanage, Ignacio is lovestruck, and he somehow comes to believe that, even though she considers wrestling sinful, he can woo her with his awesome strength and powerful skills, of which he possess neither. Ignacio recruits a raggedy homeless thief (Héctor Jiménez) to partner him in the ring, where they plan to move up from amateur bouts to fame and fortune. Even though they are hopeless fighters, Nacho (Ignacio) and Esqueleto are entertaining losers, and they discover that they can get paid even in defeat. Eventually, however, this empty success disturbs Nacho, and he enters an open competition for the right to fight the cruel champion Ramses and achieve the (self-)respect he has long sought. Like Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre is loosely plotted and pursues a tacky oddball vibe over traditional pay-offs, which is a plus, since the more obvious gags are seldom inspired. Co-writing this time with wife (and Napoleon co-scribe) Jerusha plus emo indie film icon Mike White (Chuck and Buck, The School of Rock), Hess is skilled at developing endearingly dense cretins who inhabit a surreal personal universe, but part of what made Napoleon strike such a powerful nerve was that just about everyone who attended public school could recall a handful of fellow students similar enough to the title character to relate personally, and both the directorial and narrative treatment of this forlorn doofus was fittingly unexceptional. Nacho Libre, however, is a considerable departure into fantasy, with both an unusual hero and a fanciful quest, so it fails to resonate enough to mask the flaws in its storytelling. Ignacio's pursuit of glory is humorously half-baked, but is also too carelessly plotted to give any momentum to the 91-minute running-time, and Nacho's eventual triumph is an unearned and empty experience, as well as being so formulaic as to puncture the film's off-beat bubble. As a director, Hess collects a handful of unique moments of vision along with others that weakly echo the equally precious, but more profound, style of Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), but Hess is also prone to clunky aimless — much like his protagonists. Still, Black is perfect for this role, and fans of his blustery shtick should find even the slow parts mildly enjoyable. De la Reguera is quite comely, but shows little personality, and Peter Stormare is good is brief appearance as "The Gypsy Emperor." Paramount presents Nacho Libre on DVD in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras on board include "dinner and a commentary" with Black, Hess, and White; five behind-the-scenes featurettes (which would not play on our review equipment); a six-minute montage of Black rehearsing two songs from the movie; nine minutes of deleted scenes; promo spots; and trailers. Keep-case.\
—Gregory P. Dorr

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