Lotsa Lucha, Lessa Libre.
Apparently, wrestling IS real.
A body-shaved Jack Black, squeezing his scrote into a sky-blue leotard and wrestling as a Mexican luchador by night whilst tending orphans during the day as a monk, must have sounded good on paper…
Greenlighting the writers and director of quirky hit NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (Jared and Jerusha Hess) would have also been a no-brainer in this industry that sees your last success as its future income. Add to the mélange writer Mike White, who penned Black’s last stormbringer, 2003’s SCHOOL OF ROCK, and the product of all these A-Listers is NACHO LIBRE, a movie where the phrase “comedic payoff” is as foreign as its cast.
Resting on their DYNAMITE laurels, the writers seem so self-conscious that any portion of their innocuous dialogue may find legs as schoolyard or water cooler catchphrases that no effort is expended in tightening up the lackadaisical pacing, timing, action or script itself. Like its hero, NACHO LIBRE lacks any kind of punch. (Although the name of Jack’s and Mike’s new production company hits a home run: Black and White Productions.)
Set in a Mexico where everyone is greasier than is racistly possible, and where the first language is English, delivered with an English-as-a-second-language accent, Black is Ignacio, an unwilling monk who tends a poverty-stricken orphanage, with his monk superior doing a Mexican Ray Romano (i.e. being not funny). Into this orphanage comes Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera, trying hard to be mistaken for Penelope Cruz), for no reason other than to give Ignacio blue balls.
Obsessed with the Mexican free-style wrestling known as Lucha Libre, Ignacio enlists the aid of a street thief, Esqueleto (anorexic Héctor Jiménez – or maybe he just looks anorexic next to Black), to partner with him in small-time, underground wrestling matches, bodyslamming canvas as his alter-ego, Nacho. Attired in flamboyant head mask and sky-blue stretchypants, losing matches with wild abandon, Ignacio yet makes enough cash to afford fresh food for the orphanage and a pimpin’ lifestyle for himself and Esqueleto.
There is a silly life-lesson attached to this aspect of making money. Encarnación tells Ignacio that fighting is only acceptable in the church’s eyes if it is done for someone who needs help. Does no one appreciate that Ignacio’s winnings raised the cuisine of the orphanage from feces gruel to Bennigan’s Chinese Chicken Salads? Yet the movie pursues this fallacious point as avidly as it resorts to fart jokes when nothing else seems to be working.
After losing all his battles – because he was supposedly fighting only for the fame – Nacho wins his last fight, ostensibly because he has rethunk his attitude to fight for the orphans who need his help – but his spurt of winning spunk only comes when he sees Sister Encarnación enter the arena and visions of nun-pie careen his endorphins. Which effectively means: not only was he not fighting for fame, he was not even fighting for anyone who needed his help – he fights for the reason every animal on earth fights: to impress chicks. (This is, ultimately, the most noble quest of all, from an Earth ecosystem point of view – procreation. Try telling that to people who pretend they are on a “higher spiritual plane” than the rest of us heathen, by dressing in black smocks and white collars.)
Black has still “got it” – but he can’t save this film with it; there are two major bellylaughs, when he unleashes his “JB” persona, belting out anthemic paeans in his inimitable Tenacious D idiom (complete with “bedo-bedo-boopoduuu” horn lines). These moments were, alas, too few to make a difference, Black meeting with the same fate as Jim Carrey in 2005’s FUN WITH DICK AND JANE: a super comedian in a role that would have better suited a non-comedian like Rob Schneider or Jason Biggs. With an accent unintentionally vacillating between Tony Montana, Shatner and Hervé Villechaize, the Jack Black we automatically laugh at was subsumed by foreign ambiguity.
Speaking of foreign ambiguity, Peter Stormare is completely misused as some kind of fey oracle, an opportunity to skewer Connery’s Ramirez from HIGHLANDER going wanting. All the other wrestlers are one-dimensional, most of them wearing their masks full-time to avoid any kind of humanization, especially the film’s cardboard villain, Ramses (Cesar Gonzalez).
Nacho’s mask is ripped off in the final battle with Ramses for the same reason that all masks and helmets are removed for no apparent reason (SPIDER-MAN, MISSION TO MARS, RED PLANET) – so that during high anxiety, we can see his facial expressions and relate to his emotional palette. Film-makers think we have not yet caught on to this lame gambit.
At movie’s end, when we realize that Nacho has still not consummated his relationship with Sister Encarnación – and probably never will – so as not to send a message of monk-nun infidelity (as if that would shock a PG-13 audience – maybe for the fact that it is purely a normal heterosexual relationship involving no young boys), we can only grimace, like Nacho, through clenched teeth and balls as blue as his stretchypants.