From Jared Hess (the director of Napoleon Dynamite) and comedic actor Jack Black comes Nacho Libre, a movie which, unsurprisingly, comes off as a mixture of Napoleon Dynamite and any other Jack Black comedy. What is surprising is that instead of working together, these two styles of comedy seem to cancel each other out rather flatly.
Jack Black stars as Brother Ignacio, a monk who also serves as the cook for a poor Mexican monestary. Ignacio serves his fellow Brothers as well as the orphans living at the monestary the same meal every day — bowls of bad beans decorated with tortilla chips on top. Ignaco is pushed to his limit when a wild ruffion steals the children’s bag of chips, and decides to pursue a side career as a Mexican wrestler in order to supplement his income (and ultimately, his monestary’s kitchen supplies).
Ignacio teams with Esquelto (Hector Himenez, the afore mentioned “chip bandit”) as his in ring partner. Together the two of them moonlight their way through the amateur wrestling ranks, aspiring to become pro and break into the big bucks. Along the way, Ignacio must keep his nocturnal activities a secret from his fellow Brothers, the orphans he oversees, and the beautiful Sister Encarnacion, a nun a bit to naive for her own good.
Unfortunately, Hess’ and Jack Black’s style seem to conflict more than compliment one another. Black’s physical pratfalls, most of which appear in the movie’s trailer, are few and far between. Most of the in-film wrestling matches don’t seem any more over-the-top than the ones that appear on television every week. Black’s physical comedy contrasts with the Dynamite-esque humor. Where Dynamite had three-dozen non-sequitor jokes, Nacho has a dozen or so — only half of which that work. When Ignacio invites Encarnacion to his room “to have some toast”, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or just scratch my head. Vaguely humorous one-liners are only compounded by tons of plot directions and jokes that don’t go anywhere and never deliver.
More confusing is the complete lack of appeal to young kids. For a movie that is being heavily advertised all day long between episodes of Spongebob Squarepants and Jimmy Neutron on Nickelodeon (who also backed the film), there was basically nothing in this film to hold my preschooler’s attention. He enjoyed the ten minutes of wrestling action and the two minute “training scene”, but the long connectors filled with Black’s thick accent and dryly-delivered jokes put him in the sleeper hold.
The film isn’t a complete failure. A few of the jokes made me chuckle and as an underdog story you can’t help but cheer a little for Nacho Libre as he fights for money to feed his orphans. A lot of the jokes came off as simply trying to recapture the “Napoleon Dynamite” spirit and ended up feeling forced. Don’t expect to see “Vote for Nacho” shirts anytime soon.