Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Nacho Libre

Back in the days when I worked in minimum wage hell, I was a lowly minion in a cinema. It was around this time that I first became aware of Jack Black – mainly because we had posters up advertising Shallow Hal and I apparently bore more then just a passing resemblance to Jack, as he appeared on the poster (hugging Gwyneth Paltrow).

One of the naff ways the cinema tried to be ‘fun’ was that it made you have your favourite movie on your name badge alongside your name. It wasn’t long before some jokers ordered me a name badge with Shallow Hal on. (Still it was better than the ribbing my mate Gareth ‘Bacardi’ Lynham got when the poster came out for Amelie and it was discovered he looked the spitting image of Audrey Tatou – she of Da Vinci Code fame).

Recently Shallow Hal had its TV premiere and three people, none of whom knew about my minimum wage hell experience, said that they’d “seen this movie last night which really reminded me of you…”

Then last week, within a 24 hour window, my foster sister told me that she thought I ‘was’ Jack Black, a friend who I’m going to collaborate on writing a film script with told me we could do an autobiographical with Jack Black playing me, and my office’s resident filmaholic asked me what I was doing that evening, because there was this film he wanted to see with me called Nacho Libre.

So, I went to see it last night with Cath, Dr Nicholls and Irony Boy. What a disappointment. Not going with Cath, Dr Nicholls and Irony Boy – they’re good company to go to the cinema with. But the film…

The thing that got me was that this was a huge missed opportunity. The basic premise is flawless – a monk, wanting to buy decent food for the orphans in his care, ignores the Church’s condemnation of wrestling, dresses up as a (masked) wrestler, and in this secret identity wins enough money to buy the orphans salads for a change. As a concept, it can’t miss. As a film, it did.

Jack Black is a good comic actor. I liked Shallow Hal, despite the constant annoying comparisons. I liked Orange County, which if you haven’t seen it, is just brilliant, mainly because of Jack’s performance as a hippy stoner. I liked Envy, where he outperforms Ben Stiller – no mean feat.

Admittedly he wasn’t great in King Kong, but then King Kong was awful. And I personally thought School of Rock wasn’t that good, although I know people who loved it to bits (you know who you are, Sian Lewis).

I’m not a huge fan of his band, Tenacious D, although I will admit the video for ‘Tribute’ is pant-wettingly funny (especially ‘he asked us “Are you angels” and we said “Nay! We are but men!” ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh’), but the album is ropey at best, with too many ‘spoken word’ segments. (The best one is ‘Cock Pushups’ where Jack tries to convince Kyle that once they’re famous they’re going to get loads of groupies, so they’d better get in training by doing ‘cock push-ups’). Unsurprisingly, there’s a Tenacious D movie in the works.

So, where did Nacho Libre go wrong? Well, firstly the script was poor. It felt as if the actors were improvising. There were lots of standing/sitting around scenes where not much happened. To make scenes ‘funnier’ the director had the brilliant idea of having Jack’s character Ignacio, sitting on a toilet while talking to someone else. Ooh, my aching sides! Ignacio and his tag-team partner get beaten up a lot by a variety of dwarf wrestlers/ women wrestlers/ bizarre character wrestlers. Hilarious! He falls in love with a nun who seems to spend most of the film combing her hair while wearing a long nightdress. Call the doctor – I’ve split my sides!

I’ve reached the conclusion that there are only so many times you can watch Jack Black getting beaten up in a wrestling ring without it getting deathly dull. That number is somewhere between once and twice. After that, it’s just boring.

Ignacio is a bit of a dunce, and therein lies another missed opportunity. This could have been a powerful comedy drama with a hint of ‘liberation theology’ as a monk takes his calling to stand up for the poor and dispossessed seriously, flouting pious religiosity to become a folk hero. Instead he comes over as a pathetic, misunderstood clown. There are nods to the dramatic. Ignacio asks ‘What is the gospel?’ with the questioning attitude of many who have discovered that religion talks the talk but does not walk the walk. But that’s about it.

Ultimately, the biggest disappointment of Nacho Libre is that it could have been so much better – a great concept, a great comic actor, a huge marketing push.

Oh, if only Hollywood could discover an as-yet-untapped scriptwriting genius.


  1. Anonymous16/8/06 10:36

    Hooray, I'm in Jon's blog!! Fame at last, if only fleetingly so!
    Yes, I loved School of Rock, if only for the semi-naked guitarist who writhes round on the stage towards the end of the film! No, I'm not that shallow, loved the film for lots of reasons, sound track being one of them.
    Nice blog today Jon.

  2. Yes, I loved School of Rock, too, but I also thought Nacho Libre was a pile of, well, nachos really...