Saturday, June 17, 2006

Reel To Reel: Nacho Libre

Vote For Nacho

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Hector Jimenez
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Wrestling Violence, Mild Language, One Manure Joke

Pro wrestling is fake. We know it's fake. I hope we know it's fake. WWE admits it's fake. Still, that doesn't lessen its drawing power for the faithful, and south of the border, wrestling -- known as "lucha libre" (free fight) -- holds deep roots and a colorful history of masks, heroes and villians.

Enter director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Jack Black. Nacho Libre is their colorful tribute to lucha, filmed entirely on location in Mexico. Black plays Ignacio, aka "Nacho," a monk cook at an orphanage so impoverished the friars can only afford meals of leftover tortilla chips tossed out on some back porch. Black longs for a better life and the love of a beautiful new nun, Sister Encarnacion (Reguera), with her long flowing hair which mysteriously some Mother Superior has allowed her to keep. Nacho is a fat oaf, riding around in a moped cart which looks like a reject from "Monster Garage." His cooking impresses no one. But when he sees the respect heaped upon some luchadors, he fashions a plan to win pesos and admiration by getting into the ring.

Nacho Libre works because of characterization and not plot, which is why Napoleon Dynamite worked as well. Essentially, Hess has transfused the formula into a different picture while retaining Napoleon's trademarks: wide static shots, goofy closeups, picturesque locations, and comical composition. Just the way Hess frames and arranges some shots is funny. Take nothing away from Black, though. His "mow-there," "sees-ter" accent is better than some of the actual lines coming out of his mouth.

To say Nacho will get what he's after is not giving anything away. This recycled triumphant sports plot has been recycled too many times to count, and any fresh variation immediately wins points. But the film gets tedious at points where the locations are funnier than the characters in them, and it tries to milk some scenes too hard for laughs. Jack Black doesn't need to milk scenes. Just let him wrestle.

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