Nacho Libre

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Nacho (Black) is a priest who’s into wrestling. To fund his orphanage’s shortage of salad come dinnertime, he moonlights as a heroic if notably unsuccessful wrestler. But can this be the work of God? And what will he do about his feelings for the new nun


These are the facts. Jack Black as Nacho, the tubby Mexican friar-turned-wrestler with a heart of pure gold and stretchy pants of sky-blue is hilarious, puckering up a thick, silly Latin accent where he pronounces “kisses” as “keeses” beneath an unpruned moustache borrowed from Zorro. Héctor Jiménez as Esqueleto The Skeleton, Nacho’s bone-bag of a wrestling partner, has ribs like railings and a smile that forklifts open. He’s as sweet as a pea and is frequently battered stupid. Mike White’s script is brimful of chipper nonsense and loopy set-ups throughout its winning tale of this hopeful but idiotic dreamer who cooks revolting stews for his orphan wards while living a double-life as a Lucha Libre fighter, and also wrestles with his growing desires for pretty Sister Encarnación. It’s more or less School Of Rock with gimp masks and hot nuns.

Yet, for all its ripe ingredients, Nacho Libre is never truly a funny film.

There lies a cavernous divide between the comic vim of the funny-in-his-sleep Black and the kooky-clever director’s determination to pace his mania at a stoner’s plod. Jared Hess, the man
behind the edgeless Napoleon Dynamite, is an indiephile dedicated to a folksy nothingness, the cinematic equivalent of stretchy pants — loose, comfy and shapeless. The humour seems glued in place. Gags are clearly present, but it’s as if they’ve been muffled with a pillow.

This isn’t necessarily bad direction: Hess takes the time to touch base with the demented world of Mexican Libre movies — dotty, south-of-the-border B-pics from the ’60s in which barrel-chested wrestlers fight werewolves and aliens — and shoots the film with a dreamy, sunset glow.
It is just that this is entirely the wrong style of direction for the material, like a jazz band determinedly pursuing clarinet solos at a heavy metal gig.

By no means unpleasant, Nacho Libre is too genial to ever grate, and there are chuckles — Black posturing round a ring like a potbellied peacock in bright red Bridget Jones knickers could make the dead smirk — but the film so openly hints at what should have been that it drives you to distraction. As the self-deluded Nacho breaks into self-composed song before his final heroic bout, with all Black’s trademark noodling (“I ate some bugs, I ate some grass, I used my hand to wipe my… tears!”), the movie too starts to sing, but it’s an infrequent bit of bliss in an frustratingly long-winded and finally vapid comedy .

A daft idea perfectly calibrated to Black’s pop mania, then hermetically sealed by a director who thinks he’s making a Hal Hartley movie.