Nacho Libre Review
Is it enough for a comedy to be amusing? Nacho Libre kept a smile on my face from beginning to end but only a handful of times did that smile break into a laugh. This is a movie that may play well on the small screen, especially to viewers who come to it with no great expectations. It has some nice ideas and there's little to dislike about it. However, to cinemagoers eager to see a collaboration between Jack Black, one of the funniest comedians working in cinema, and Jared Hess, the creator of Napoleon Dynamite, one of the funniest movies of recent years, it's likely to be a major disappointment.
Jack Black plays Brother Ignatio, a young Mexican monk who spends his days cooking for the orphans taken in by his monastery and his nights dreaming of being a "luchador" - a professional wrestler. He likes serving God, especially now that the lovely Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera) has come to help, but he longs to be a star. When a thieving beggar (Héctor Jiménez) mugs him, beats him up and steals the orphans' food, Ignatio is inspired to track the beggar down and make a proposition: they should join together, form a wrestling tag team and take on the local champions.
The subject matter is a big part of why Nacho Libre never really takes off. Professional wrestling seems like an easy target for comedy but appearances can be deceptive. The real sport, whether practised by masked Mexican luchadors or the even more outrageous characters of the American WWE, is so (deliberately) over the top and showbizzy, making fun of it is futile. Nacho Libre doesn't even make a good attempt: it has few insights into wrestling and gets surprisingly few laughs out of it. The sight of Jack Black in a silly costume can only tickle your funny bone so much. The numerous fight scenes are no funnier than the real matches you can watch on Sky and the apparently unbreakable formula of the sports movie imposes a predictability on the film that works against its offbeat, indie-movie style.
The Mexican Catholic angle provides richer material but little is done with it. I wish more had been made of the religious quarrel between Ignatio and his wrestling partner (who believes in science) and of the childish rivalries at the monastery. A scene where a spiteful fellow monk sends Brother Ignatio on an errand so he can be alone with Sister Encarnación is one of the gags that made me laugh: the idea of monks and nuns behaving like schoolkids is so disarming, it should have been better developed.
Napoleon Dynamite had better targets - high school, white trash Americana, the 1980s - and it hit them far more frequently. It also had a star in Jon Heder whose hyperactivity was a good contrast with Jared Hess's lazily paced, stylised direction. Jack Black can do hyper as well as anyone but here he's quite restrained and low-key. Although he does have some good moments - his comic timing is immaculate - Black is a comedian who works best playing fast-talking wise-ass slobs with a bit of the devil in them. He's like the spawn of Jack Nicholson and John Belushi. As the well-meaning Ignatio, he's so angelic, even his lust for a nun seems like innocent puppy love.