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
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
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
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