Nacho Libre (Paramount Pictures, PG)

Wes Anderson fans should enjoy much of the oddball comedy that keeps Nacho Libre afloat during its brief running time.

 

 

Following the astounding success of Napoleon Dynamite, writer/director Jared Hess' follow-up is an even sillier comedy about a priest determined to become a Mexican wrestler. Teaming with talented writer Mike White (School of Rock) and his wife Jerusha, Hess crafts a broader film that offers some good laughs but fails to match the charm of its predecessor.

Nacho Libre stars Jack Black as Nacho, a Mexican priest who serves food and performs other odd jobs for the kids at a poor orphanage. Dreams of becoming a wrestling star dominate his thoughts, directly contradicting the teachings of the church. The daily stew for meals is awful, and glory in the ring could lead to better food for the children. Sporting a flabby belly and limited skills, Nacho is hardly the ideal wrestler. Teaming with the lean, awkward street urchin Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez), he battles all types of strange opponents, including two little guys who could barely be described as humans. These scenes are filmed energetically, but they are actually played too straightforward to generate more than a few grins. Black spends most of the fights behind a mask, which doesn't allow his over-the-top personality to truly shine.

Napoleon Dynamite's best moments incorporated deadpan humor, strange facial expressions, and physically unattractive characters to generate both empathy and big laughs. Hess uses a similar style here, but aims lower with fart jokes, ridiculous physical comedy, and other obvious tactics. These actions don't kill the film, but they do cheapen the story and pull the viewer away from a generally sweet tale. Kids should really enjoy the wrestling moves and more blatant humor, but adults who loved Napoleon's charm might grow weary this time. Nacho's pining for the attractive Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera) is well done, especially in a ridiculous song and goofy letter expressing his feelings. Their personal moments feel genuine and incorporate the fresh, understated humor needed more often in this picture.

Wes Anderson fans should enjoy much of the oddball comedy that keeps Nacho Libre afloat during its brief running time. Esqueleto's unsightly visage and gangly features would fit perfectly in Anderson's world, and the cute kids also mesh with his style. Black is more boisterous than a hero like Owen Wilson or Bill Murray, but Hess' love for atypical characters fits with this mold. PC-minded viewers could paint this film as a negative portrayal of Mexico, but most of the characters are likable figures. Nacho appears to be the only major character played by an American actor, and the shooting did take place in Mexico. Viewers hoping for the next great comedy in the vein of Napoleon Dynamite will probably be disappointed, but there are enough fun moments here to warrant a modest recommendation.

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