A careful observation: most mainstream Hollywood films don't feature an overweight, half-Scandanavian protagonist masquerading as a Mexican wrestler to feed hungry orphans. Yet that's precisely what director Jared Hess chose as a follow-up to his surprise smash, Napoleon Dynamite---and while it's almost crazy enough to work, it usually doesn't. Thirty second scenes are dragged out to several minutes, cheap slapstick and fart jokes abound, and somewhere under the surface is the nagging feeling that nobody's having much fun. A few of these elements helped Napoleon Dynamite stand out; here, they just stand out.
Oddly enough, Nacho Libre seems to borrow its plot loosely from Eric Duret's L' Homme au masque d'or (1990), a relatively obscure French film starring fan favorite Jean Reno (no, really!). Both feature a religious main character, desperate enough to earn money for orphans that they'd wrestle for it. In Nacho Libre, it's played completely for laughs; a sensible maneuver, if it were handled carefully enough. Such an over-the-top premise would seem like a perfect vehicle for the charismatic, cartoonish Jack Black (as the heroic Ignacio, AKA "Nacho"), yet Black seems unable to disappear into the role. For roughly 90 minutes, he's simply playing himself.
This wouldn't be so tough to swallow if it were the unchained Jack Black from High Fidelity and Tenacious D (or School of Rock, even), yet Black has trouble staying in character during the bulk of Nacho Libre. If you're not completely convinced, just count how many times his Mexican accent mysteriously vanishes.
Despite the predictable route that Nacho Libre follows, a few key elements help to keep things afloat. The inspired music (by Danny Elfman and Beck, among others) anchors a few scenes very well, while some of the supporting performers (including Ana de la Reguera as Ignacio's love interest, Sister Encarnación) help balance the film's violent mood swings. Fans of lucha libre will be glad to see a few popular favorites (including César González, AKA "Silver King", as the cocky Ramses), though many of the film's wrestling matches don't offer a fraction of the sport's excitement. The set design and warm atmosphere also deserve special mention. And though Nacho Libre admittedly keeps its humor cheap and easy, I'll be darned if I didn't chuckle a few times. At times, it's almost impossible not to.
Despite these few glimmers of hope, Nacho Libre eventually collapses under its own weight. The jokes are mostly dull and embarrassing, though Black's over-the-top showmanship manages to make a few scenes stand out. Nacho Libre doesn't take itself seriously, yet this detached approach ultimately keeps it from being memorable. More than anything, though, it's the extreme clash of comedic styles that slows so many scenes to a crawl---and though it probably seemed funny on paper, Nacho Libre only manages to be amusing on a part-time basis. As a fan of Hess and Black's previous work, I can only hope they keep their respective styles at a safe distance from now on.
Still, fans of the film should be satisfied with Paramount's DVD presentation. The main feature is supported well by a decent technical presentation and a platter of appropriate bonus features, most of which favor the film's atmosphere and spirit instead of the technical stuff. Though it'll probably only appeal to those who saw and enjoyed Nacho Libre in the theater, there's still enough here to help this one float by. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, Nacho Libre features a warm, highly saturated color palette and a slightly soft image. No digital problems (edge enhancement and combing, for example) were spotted along the way, rounding out this adequate presentation nicely.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (also available in English or French 2.0) boasts clean, clear dialogue and music cues. The rear channels aren't put to much use during the film (even during the wrestling matches, oddly enough), but fans shouldn't be disappointed overall. Optional English and Spanish subtitles have been included for the main feature and most of the bonus material, though a few burned-in subtitles were also spotted.
Next up are a series of featurettes, leading off with "Detrás de la Cámara" (28:31, below left), a casual piece recorded on location in Oaxaca during the film's production. Featuring interviews and off-handed comments from several members of the cast and crew, it's a relatively lightweight effort that fans should enjoy. Next up is "Jack Black Unmasked" (12:35), a promotional but fun featurette hosted by Black, with additional production and in-ring training footage. Also here is "Lucha Libre" (3:13), a brief look at the fans and history of the popular sport; and "Hecho en Mexico", (2:28) a like-minded tour of the area where Nacho Libre was shot. Closing out the featurettes is "Moviefone Unscripted with Jack Black and Héctor Jiménez" (9:12), a fairly standard sit-down Q&A with the two leads.
Up next is "Jack Sings" (2 clips, 6:19 total), a pair of rehearsal clips with Black hamming it up for the camera. Also here is a collection of Deleted Scenes (3 clips, 9:32 total), including "The Way of the Eagle", "Poem for Ramses" and "Ramses Gets Jumped". These are presented in rough but finished form---and while they're nothing spectacular, fans will certainly want to check them out. Closing out the film-related extras is a series of TV Spots (though the trailer isn't included) and a nice Photo Gallery (above right) with pictures of on-set goofing, a few luchadores and a bonus gallery of Nacho goodness. Also included are few Previews for upcoming Paramount releases.
All bonus features are presented in 1.33:1 or 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, while optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included. Sharp-eyed viewers also want to keep their eyes peeled for an amusing Easter Egg where Jack Black gets snubbed for a high-five by director Jared Hess. Ouch!
It's oddly compelling and occasionally amusing, but there's no doubt that Nacho Libre isn't for all tastes. Hess' bone-dry style of comedy may take some getting used to (though it shouldn't be anything new to fans of Napoleon Dynamite), but the careful compositions, catchy music and colorful characters help salvage sections of this fairly predictable romp. Paramount's solid DVD presentation should please fans of the film, combining a decent technical presentation with a handful of light but entertaining bonus features. While it's certainly not blind buy material, there's still enough here to recommend Nacho Libre for the weekend. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, mocking passers-by and writing things in third person.