This was one of the summer flicks I was really looking forward to. The trailer was insanely hilarious and I was looking forward to see what Jared and Jerusha Hess could do with Jack Black and Mike White. Both factions have proven their comic talent, with the Hesses responsible for the wonderful Napoleon Dynamite and Black and White (which is the name of their prodco) have teamed up on various projects, the best of which, I think, is School of Rock, which White wrote and Black starred in. While this seems like a match made in comedy heaven, the result in Nacho Libre is a way too dry, sparsely funny flick that tries way too hard to entertain.
It seemed that director Jared Hess tried too hard to do the complete opposite of his accomplishment in Napoleon Dynamite. The characters in Dynamite rarely crack a smile, but the writing is so crisp and naturally funny without using standard gags that we're used to. I suppose writing for Jack Black, who relies more on physical comedy, would bring about some changes here, but the comedy just seems way too contrived here. There is only one part in the whole flick that I laughed uncontrollably - a baptism by force scene that I still laugh about even when I think about it - but the rest is just terribly inconsistent, with almost all of the other jokes garnering merely a few chuckles here and there. It's almost hard to spot Mike White's influence here, actually, since both the Hesses and White write primarily dry comedy. What's really sad about this movie is they had just a golden premise - a loser-ish missionary who dreams of being a wrestler and moonlights as a lutrador to help his mission - that they pissed it away on phony theatrics and board-flat jokes. They even messed up the mission part. In all the synopsis' I read, it always had Nacho "saving" the mission, but, even though they're poor, we get no signs that the mission is in financial peril. Sloppy, just sloppy.
Jack Black is fairly enjoyable here as the missionary Ignatio who turns into Nacho Libre when he dons the cape, mask and "stretchy pants." His delivery and physical humor is well-done as always, but it did seem like he was trying to stretch it too much in some parts. His performance is also somewhat weakened by the total lack of a supporting cast. Besides the fact that there are all no-namers here, they just don't fit the bill. Ana de la Reguera is a little too hot to be a nun, and she gives a really bland performance here. It seemed like Hess was trying to make her somewhat like Tina Majorino's Deb character in Dynamite... but he didn't really give her anything meaningful to say. Hector Jimenez is probably the worst of all here, as Nacho's ring partner Esqueleto. He delivers such an odd performance here, menacing one minute and overly happy and smiling like a goon the next. When it's all said and done here, you even wonder why this character was really necessary in the first place. Darius Rose's Chacho character is the only other meaningful one here, and he does a nice job as the rotund little youth who admires Nacho, but the rest of the cast is so meaningless, they're almost relegated to a cameo.
Jared Hess' direction is fairly decent here, using some more fluid camera work than Napoleon, but not working nearly as well with his talent. He surely does have a unique style of helming, and I especially like his almost anti-montage, where they don't seem to improve at all with their training before Nacho and Esqueleto step into the ring. But perhaps Mike White's influence was greater than it seems. Maybe their writing styles are so similar they don't mesh well together. On their own, they've both done smashing work, but perhaps a collaboration like this one just wasn't in the cards for White and the Hesses.
Nacho Libre is a fairly hollow flick that tries to be both dry and slapstick-ish at the same time. While Black is somewhat entertaining here, he's not nearly as good as he has been in the past, and this surely isn't the follow-up to Napoleon Dynamite that I expected from Jared and Jerusha Hess. Maybe I was wrong to expect more than cheap jokes and stretchy pants here, but I think it's just sad that all these great comic minds could come up with such a lackluster flick.