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When I was a kid there were too things I loved to have for lunch: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and salami sandwiches. One morning when I was about six, the whole family went shopping and we bought a trunk full of food. After it was all put away it was lunch time and my mother said I could make whatever I wanted. We had a fresh jar of extra chunky peanut butter and some of that deli salami where the butcher slices it nice and thick. Which one to have? I just couldn't decide. After thinking about it for about 10 minutes I had a brainstorm: Why not have both? So I put mayo on one piece of bread and layered salami on, smeared peanut butter on another slice of bread and put them together. I was sure that my peanut butter and salami sandwich was going to be a masterpiece. They'd probably even name it after me, once I told the press about it. Of course those dreams of fame and fortune quickly died as I took my first bite. Ugh! It was horrible. How was it possible to mix two great things and come up with a disaster? It just didn't make sense.
When I was screening Nacho Libre, I was reminded of my salami and peanut butter sandwich. It stars Jack Black, an actor who I really enjoy watching, and it was directed and co-written by Jared Hess the man behind one of 2004's best films, Napoleon Dynamite. If you put these two great talents together in a comedy about a Friar who becomes a masked wrestler how could it fail? Unfortunately, just like my sandwich, it does fail and has few redeeming values.
Nacho (Jack Black) was an orphan raised by Franciscan monks in Mexico. He joined their order when he came of age and is now the cook in the orphanage, making cabbage stew for dinner every day. While his mind should be concerned with spiritual thoughts what Nacho really spends his time thinking about is becoming a Luchador, a masked wrestling champion.
When a new, attractive nun arrives at the convent to teach the orphans, Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera), Nacho is forced to take stock of his life. He's attracted to Encarnación, he doesn't enjoy his job, and is overall dissatisfied with his lot in life. While traveling in town to get food, he sees a sign for a tag-team wrestling tournament and decides to enter. Enlisting the help of a petty crook, Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez), the pair becomes Mexico's newest wrestling sensations.
Or so they hope. First they have to win a match. In the tournament they are thoroughly trounced, but they do get paid. So they come back the next week, and the next. They never win a bout, but the keep getting the loser's share of the purse. Nacho uses it to buy fresh produce for the orphans, as well as some fancy new clothes. He's still not satisfied though. His goal is to become a wrestling champion, and the only way to do that is to win the upcoming free-for-all battle against the seven best fighters in the town.
This movie should be funny, but it just isn't. Just about all of the jokes are telegraphed, and even Jack Black's hamming doesn't create much humor. A perfect example of why the film doesn't work is presented in an early scene. Nacho is told to go and comfort an old man who has the flu. When he arrives at the house he finds an old man with his eyes closed, and performs the final rights. He covers his head with a cloth, and stands up and gives a eulogy to the man's wife. Of course, the man takes to cloth off and opens his eyes half way though. Nacho is surprised, end of scene. Do you get it? He wasn't really dead! Can you believe that??? From the first it was obvious that the man was still alive, but the actions that Nacho goes through don't have much humor in them. The whole scene falls flat, like the rest of the movie.
Besides the lack of comedy, this is a very sloppy movie too. It is filled with continuity errors and flaws that really make it hard for viewers to suspend their disbelief. I can overlook a misplaced prop or two, but this movie is rife with those errors. From ears of corn suddenly disappearing to Nacho not having the cords of his robe tied properly, to very obvious stunt doubles in the wrestling scenes I can't recall any movie, Hollywood made or independent, that has this many continuity goofs. One of the most egregious gaffs is when the orphan's clothes change while they are watching TV. They don't even try to disguise the fact by putting some scenes in between the continuity goof. One shot they are in day clothes, the very next one they are in night shirts. What's with the language in the film too? Nacho and everyone he talks to speaks English, but the announcers at the matches and everyone else in the film speaks Spanish. This is confusing and just serves to remind everyone that they are watching a movie. (I won't go into Jack Black's horrid accent…)
There are a couple of laughs in the film, but they are few and far between. The topic has a lot of humorous potential, but it never really achieves what it should. Half way through film I started hoping that it was almost over, and was quite depressed to discover that there was still well over half an hour left in the film. A slow film that unfolds pretty much as everyone expects it to, it's filled with lame jokes that often misfire. Just like the sandwich I created when I was six, this film leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
The 1.85:1 widescreen image looks pretty good but not outstanding when compared to other Blu-ray discs. The level of detail is very good, better than SD DVD certainly, but not as great as some other BDs and it varies from scene to scene. Some segments look great, like the scene in alley where Nacho and Esqueleto fight. Viewers can make out the grains of sand that were used to make the brick walls and the threads of the fighter's clothes. Other parts don't have that level of detail, and while still better than SD DVD, they aren't nearly as impressive.
The film did have a good amount of dimensionality and there were several scenes that really popped off the screen. (When Nacho is out in the desert is a good example of this.) The colors were bright and solid and the blacks were deep and rich.
On the minus side, there was a bit of digital noise in several scenes. The blue desert sky was particularly apt to be effected by this. This wasn't as bad as some BD titles (*cough* some Sony titles *cough*) and was never really distracting but it was evident.
Paramount has provided Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in English, French and Spanish. There wasn't a lossless audio track nor was a DTS track present. Like the video quality, the audio sounded good but wasn't outstanding. Fairly good use was made of the soundstage and the ambient sounds were well placed, but there were few scenes that had much of a sonic impact. I was hoping for a bit more from some of the wrestling scenes. The incidental music fit the movie well and was clean but sometimes was mixed a bit too loud. The scene where Nacho is driving to the city and passes a villager and his cow, it's hard to hear what Nacho says. ("Nice cow.") Aside from that flaw, the soundtrack was solid.
This disc has a very good selection of starting off with a commentary with Jack Black, Jared Hess, and co-writer/co-producer Mike White. I wasn't too enamored of this commentary track. The participants are eating dinner while they watch the film, which is an interesting experiment but it doesn't really work. Like the film, this commentary was pretty bland and dull and didn't really add much to my understanding or enjoyment of the movie.
That's only the beginning however. This disc is really packed with extras. There are seven (!) featurettes that cover most aspects of the film, two rehearsals of Jack Black singing, three deleted scenes, promo spots, a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer. A very nice selection of extras.
A big fan of Jack Black and Jared Hess, I was really looking forward to this movie. I had wanted to see it in the theater, but didn't get around to it, and I'm glad it worked out that way. This film misses at most levels. More often than not the jokes don't work, the movie is very predictable, and viewers ultimately don't care about any of the characters. While the Blu-ray disc looks and sounds good and has a large selection of extras, that doesn't make up for the poor quality of the film. Skip it.