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Director: Jared Hess

Producers: Jack Black, David Klawans, Julia Pistor, Mike White

Written by: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, Mike White

Cast: Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Héctor Jiménez, Cesar “Silver King” Gonzalez, Craig “The Human Tornado” Williams


A couple years back, first-time director Jared Hess struck indie cinema gold with Napoleon Dynamite. Inexplicably, this small-time movie, written and directed by Mormons and produced on a diminutive budget, became a break-out mainstream phenomenon and a box office smash (not like Spiderman smash, but smash considering the context and circumstances). By the end of the year, people were wearing Napoleon t-shirts and dressing as Napoleon for Halloween. Trendy young people sported “Vote for Pedro” buttons. Companies made fucking talking doll toys and action figures! My friend Henry put Napoleon Dynamite stuff on his voice mail greeting. Remember how everyone was quoting Austin Powers? Well, everyone was now quoting Napoleon Dynamite. This was a level of geek and mainstream hegemony over a quirky little indie film that Kevin Smith would envy.

Enter Nacho Libre, the sophomore effort from the Mormon filmmaking couple Jared and Jerusha Hess. Music and movie star Black portrays Ignacio, a monk who moonlights as a chef at his Mexican monastery. A former orphan, Ignacio wants to get the orphans he cares for better food than slop and leftover tortilla chips. He sees the opportunity in becoming a luchador: a Mexican wrestler of the lucha libre style.

Ignacio gets a gangly but quick and agile alley rat who steals the orphans’ chips, Esquelito (Jiménez), to be his tag team partner for the wrestling. The problem is that Ignacio—whose childhood dream was to be a luchador—gets caught up more in becoming the best luchador than in giving the orphans better food.

Since I’m a wrestling fanatic, I’ll give you a little tutorial. Lucha libre is a quick and fast-paced style of wrestling. It encourages the workers to move around the ring very quickly, mixing high-impact moves and wrestling techniques with high flying or high-risk maneuvers and sequences. High-risk means off the top rope. Luchadores are the purveyors of this style, which was pioneered and perfected in Mexico. Lucha libre was eventually incorporated into the highly respected field of Japanese professional wrestling or “puroresu,” and made famous in the United States by the cruiserweight division of WCW in its heyday and currently the X Division in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.

The masked luchadores are well respected and sometimes legendary individuals. To be a masked wrestler means you have to be seen in public as the character you portray in the ring. The mask is the pride of a luchador. And if the luchador loses his mask as the result of a ruling from an actual match-up, he is never allowed to put it back on again (WWE World Champion Rey Mysterio broke this taboo). Santo (whose movies are showcased at the Alamo Drafthouse) upheld his mystique by wearing the mask in public. When Santo passed away, he was even buried wearing his luchador mask.

I’m a fan of matches and work-rate over crazy storylines, outlandish characters, and generally bad taste. In other words, the “sportz entertainment” style of the WWE: a product that became so horribly disgusting, distasteful, shameless, and pathetic that I became embarrassed to be a wrestling fan. I then turned to alternatives and discovered federations that actually respect my tastes in wrestling and fulfill them to a degree WWE does not. These are indie feds such as Ring of Honor and PWG, and the currently rising #2 wrestling promotion in the US, Total Nonstop Action wrestling or TNA. Don’t be fooled by the return of Extreme Championship wrestling or ECW. It’s simply a piece of corporate, micro-managed, WWE garbage, and I feel the premiere of the new show on the Sci-Fi channel of all places is proof of that.

So that’s why I was excited about Nacho Libre. A sports movie about wrestling and lucha libre starring Jack Black as a Mexican luchador! Awesome right? Well, not so much. Hess shoots Nacho Libre in the same manner as Napoleon Dynamite, and it doesn’t really work. It works for Napoleon Dynamite, which is a quirky little comedy, where it fits the characters and material. But it doesn’t gel with Jack Black’s personality or the material of the movie itself. Also unfortunate are the forced use of farts and toilet humor, as if Paramount executives mandated the folly insert of farts to get a few more giggles from the kiddies.

Most disappointing is the inaccuracy in the presentation of lucha libre. The film scratches the surface, but the rules and finishes are totally off. And while it begins as Ignacio’s childhood dream, it feels like an after-thought. The match sequences have some funny bits which get tiresome very quickly. They lack energy, pacing, and suspense because of Hess’s very static and laid-back style.

We don’t get much of a look into the lucha libre world outside of Nacho, who is also busy dealing with his not-so-pure feelings for the new nun of the church, Encarnación (Reguera). This produced some cute, funny scenes like when they are eating toast together and Nacho talks about his history, or when, in Jack Black fashion, he writes a song for her.

If you’re a pro-wrestling aficionado, well… all I have to say is: The Human Tornado. If you know anything about The Human Tornado, you’ll know it when you see it. Former WCW star, Silver King, portrays the rude and intimidating Ramses, the top luchador star in Mexico. Ramses is the person that Ignacio aspires to be early on, until he finds out that the famous luchador is a real jerk and doesn’t deserve respect or admiration from anybody, especially the orphans.

I’m still waiting for the perfect sports/comedy about lucha libre that I know is out there. But I don’t think you’ll find it here.

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

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