I'm still not sure what to think about Jared Hess, director of "Napolean Dynamite" and now "Nacho Libre." He demonstrably has a clear enough vision of the sort of films he wants to make, and his work has the quirky sense of feigned amaturism. Problem is, it's still unclear how much of it is actually feigned and how much really is just sloppy... and whether or not that matters.
"Napolean," whatever else it was, was off on an odd-duck "kick" all it's own: The plot openly followed a 100% by-the-book "school dork makes good" formula, and that seemed to be the point. Since Hess and his film could count on nearly everyone being able to intuit every beat and turn of the actual story, they were free to focus squarely on every weird little character tick and "local color" oddity that drifted into the frame. Anyone who'd seen more than one teen comedy in their life could tell you that Napolean would come out of his shell in front of a huge crowd to help Pedro, and once the dancing came into play they could tell you how... but could ANYONE have predicted, well, that?
This seems to be Hess' "style" thus far, and it's once-more put to use in "Nacho Libre." Jack Black leads as Nacho, a Mexican friar minding the kitchen of a poor Mexican orphanage and nursing a not-so-secret dream: To become a Luchadore (masked Mexican professional wrestler) and be rich and famous. Newly-inspired by the arrival of an alluring Nun and the befriending of a homeless man of nearly-feral fighting skills, Nacho sets out to live this dream... without really being very strong, physically fit or even slightly skilled at the Lucha Libre sport. But since, as it turns out, even losing a match pays well enough to provide Nacho's orphanage with desperately-needed food money, he finds himself drawn deeper into the wrestling world. Just like with "Napolean," most of us know where this is going: Nacho will be conflicted between fame and his "real" life, have a fall, rise again, etc. The story isn't the point, all the weird "stuff" Hess and Black pack the running time with is.
The film skews to a younger audience, despite Black's reputation otherwise, and they'll be the age group that probably appreciates it the most. It's more silly than outright funny, relying on the absurdity of the situations (and the general absurdity of Lucha Libre, here presented without excess parody) and characters to drive most of the humor. In a Felliniesque move, Hess has stocked the "bit parts" with actors seemingly selected because they are "funny looking," which eventually gives the proceedings the air out captured surreality.
"Nacho" isn't quite the "thing from another world" oddity that "Napolean" was, but it's endearing and charming on it's own strange terms. Black has an interesting aura going on as Nacho, turning what could have been (and, lets be fair, occasionally still is) a one-note ethnic caricature into a character who's fills out more than just his "stretchy-pants." But the heart of the film is young Darius Rose as little orphan Chancho, a real find of a child actor who's deadpan earnesty is really something to see: If the way he's enraptured by Nacho's exploits transmits even a little to the kids his age in the audience, Nickelodeon has a real hit on it's hands.
FINAL RATING: 7/10