I like Jack Black. Ever since I saw him in a darkly comedic sequence in Alison Maclean’s 1999 film Jesus’ Son, I’ve liked Jack Black.
And I like Jared (and Jerusha) Hess’ 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite, about a geek with a big heart and hidden talents. They directed and co-wrote Nacho Libre.
I even liked the trailers for Nacho Libre. So despite all the other films opening this weekend, I went to see Nacho Libre today.
Jack plays Nacho, a young man who happened to become a friar because he was orphaned and evidently taken in by a monastery in the middle of nowhere, Mexico. He becomes the cook, but as the years go by, he has less to cook with since the other friars don’t provide him with money for fresh ingredients. The kids get tired of the swill, and one of the brothers, who is not very nice to Nacho, complains that he has had diarrhea since Easter.
But Nacho has a secret: he wants to be a wrestler, a luchedor. Luche libre wrestling reminded me of a primitive form of the WWF (or now World Wrestling Entertainment). He also has the hots for Penelope Cruz look-alike Sr. Encarnacion, a teacher, played by Ana de la Reguera. Both are conflicted over their vows of celibacy; maybe it’s because Sr. Encarnacion forgot to remove the diamond studs from her ears when she entered the convent.
Nacho finds himself a partner, the homeless day-old-nacho-thief Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez), perhaps because he can jump high walls.
They start training, enter the ring, and start making money even though they lose. Nacho buys fresh produce with the money - and outfits himself with luchedor stuff. When Nacho is discovered wrestling by the friars, they kick him out. He goes into the desert to meditate – for one day. Then he gets to the final match – and wins. Now he buys that bus for the orphans, and they (he, Encarnacion and the orphans) drive off to … nowhere and look over what looks like some Aztec ruins, all happy. Roll the credits. Roll your eye balls.
I wanted to like Nacho Libre but it doesn’t make the cut. Mike White, who wrote School of Rock and several episodes of one of the best TV shows ever made, Freaks and Geeks, must have had indigestion when he wrote Nacho Libre. It’s not funny, and it doesn’t take you by the heart like Napoleon Dynamite did. It’s like a bunch of connected scenes and sequences without any real comedic development.
Certainly, the worst critic of a film portraying religious life and nuns is a nun. Because Nacho and Encarnacion seem barely dedicated to the life they have chosen (when it comes to chastity; they share bread in her bedroom while she’s in her modest night gown and their flirting, while innocent, was an inappropriate distraction) the film comes off as a really poor joke instead of a comedy. I kept waiting for a sweet surprise. Alas.
But it had potential because the kids are good. At one point Nacho (whose real name is Brother Ignacio) says, “The friars think I do not know the Gospel; but I do.” At least Nacho and Encarnacion are genuinely good to the kids.
(Today, Monday, I heard Al Roker on The Today Show call this film a "chip flick". Yes, a day old one.)