Nacho Libre
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Nacho Libre

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There are certain movies, especially comedies, where having your higher brain functions disabled is a definite advantage. Now, there is nothing at all wrong with this. Every so often it is a good thing to just sit back and go back to those carefree days in the school yard where puerile jokes were accessible as funny. Some of the best flicks in this category may be childish but there is an underlying smart quality. Just look at a classic like ‘Ghostbusters’. The humor may appear to be low brow but when you examine it is extremely well crafted. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the latest Jack Black opus, ‘Nacho Libre’. It has all the elements of such a comedy but just falls short of achieving its potential. It still is fun to watch but there is the underlying sense that it could have been so much more. It tries; it has everything it needed to reach greater heights but so times the best of intensions just don’t gel.

Just like most films that stars Jack Black the plot is just there as a scaffold. It is something that exists to mount the fast pace verbal and physical jokes. Ignacio, (Jack Black) is a man of Scandinavian-Mexican decent who was orphaned at a young age. He grew up in a religious orphanage where he eventually became a friar. Ignacio currently serves the orphanage as its cook despite the fact that not only can he not cook but the meager resources of the orphanage allows very little for him to work with. He knows that the food he serves is horrible and truly wants to provide better for kids that have nothing in their lives. There is also something else that drives Ignacio to reach beyond his current status of life. He is out to impress a young nun, Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera). Ignacio comes up with an implausible idea that if it succeeds will elevate him in the pretty sister’s eyes and bring money into the orphanage. Ignacio will enter the wildly popular sport of Lucha Libre, a form of freestyle wrestling extremely well received in most Spanish communities. Ignacio sets out to become a luchador, a costumed participate in the sport. Unlike cooking Ignacio actually seems to have an innate talent for wrestling. He teams up with a skinny friend, Stephen (Héctor Jiménez) who performs under the pseudonym of Esqueleto, the Skeleton. Wrestling gives Ignacio some sense of accomplishment, he has found something that he enjoys and is reasonably good at. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the church elders professional wrestling is not something that a friar should become involved with. On the up side for the hapless Ignacio most luchadors wear elaborate costumes that frequently feature masks. Donning a blue mask and blue ‘stretchy pants’ he transforms into Nacho Libre. Esqueleto is looking for a tag team partner since is career has been losing to little people and elderly wrestlers. When they join forces they take on some of the best luchadors in the business and start to become a popular team. His secret identity also helps to keep him on the good side of the faire nun since she sides with the church in thinking wrestling is a sin, worshipping false idols.

The people involved in this film are talented in the art of comedy. Jack Black has been a wild, freestyle comedian for years. Director Jared Hess came into this project after his sleeper hit ‘Napoleon Dynamite’. Together this should have been great but just fell short of its potential. It wasn’t their fault, the ability certainly was there but something just didn’t happen to click. The main theme of Lucha Libre is only on the peripheral of the mainstream American audience. They appear to be trying too hard here to succeed and that is what leads them off track. Another aspect here that can’t be overlooked is the fake Mexican accent sported by Black. The writers try to explaining it away with his half Scandinavian ancestry. It would have been better just to leave the exposition out and let the audience laugh at the attempts to speak in that manner. I never thought I would say this about a Jack Black comedy but I think the writers over thought too much here. Next is the budding romance between a friar and a nun. This is not exactly something most people in the audience can wrap their minds around.

Jack Black is a very talented man. He can play things on a more subtle level and still bring humor to the table. Just watch him in ‘King Kong’ as the over the top director. He can also portray the completely wild individual as he did in ‘School of Rock’. Here Black throws out one gag after another hoping that some will make the audience laugh. In some ways he succeeds in that, I did find myself laughing as this portly actor squeezes into his tights to take on well muscled pros. The combination of friar and pro wrestler distances him from making a true connection with the audience. Still, very few comedians can do physical humor like Black and that alone helps to save the film. Ana de la Reguera is better known south of the border for her work in television novellas. This is also a very popular form of entertainment in the Hispanic community and her appearance surely brought in many fans. She is well cast here as the sweet young nun with a heart of gold. Her innocence plays nicely against Black. The thing is they are both altruistic so there is no place to go with their relationship. Héctor Jiménez is also cast to perfection here. He is the best possible counter point to Black in but his comedy style and physical attributes. Looking at this thin man next to Black is humorous in itself.

Paramount does give its all to the DVD release of this flick. The mastering is impeccable. There are both Pan & Scan and widescreen versions available but lets face it, most people are going to go for the original aspect ratio of the film. The 1.85:1 anamorphic video is well done. The color balance is excellent. The colors pop off the screen with no sign of bleeding or over saturation. The contrast is what is expected for a modern film, crisp and clear. The Dolby 5.1 audio offers excellent surround sound. The front speakers have a better than usual channel separation while the rear speakers kick in with a realistic ambience. The audio commentary features Jack Black, Jared Hess and writer Mike White. They come across as a group of frat boys talking about their latest prank, obviously enjoying themselves greatly. Of course Black has to get back to his "Tenacious D" roots with a little musical number in the extras. As always his singing ability may not be great but he is funny. There are no less than five featurettes covering just about every aspect of the film’s production. While this is not a classic comedy it does allow for some well needed escape from the troubles of the day. Have some friends over and have a laugh or two.

Posted 10/14/06

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