Lord of the ring

Nacho Libre

“Well, I guess I know now why they call these things ‘prickly pears'.”

“Well, I guess I know now why they call these things ‘prickly pears'.”

Rated 4.0

The first time I saw Napoleon Dynamite, I dubbed it “OK” and gave it a passing grade, but I didn’t necessarily rave about it. With repeated viewings, I’ve grown to love the movie and appreciate the laid-back, slow-paced direction of Jared Hess. He knows how to draw precious oddball performances out of his casts, and that gift is on full display with the wrestling comedy Nacho Libre.

Jack Black, after forays into action hero (King Kong) and a rather bad comedy (Envy), returns to the mantle of comic god with his performance as Nacho, an impatient monk who’s in love with a hot nun (Ana de la Reguera, the hottest nun since Julie Andrews’ Maria from The Sound of Music) and yearns to perform skull crushers. In an effort to get the children at his orphanage better food and to fulfill his childhood dreams of wrestling stardom, he enters the world of Mexican wrestling under the moniker Nacho Libre.

He doesn’t go it alone, taking along wild street man Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez) as his wresting cohort. Nacho knows firsthand that Esqueleto has got the goods because he soundly kicked his ass in an alley, where Nacho was picking up used tortilla chips for the orphans. Jimenez, a rather laid-back, gangly man with tussled hair and a huge mouth full of teeth, proves a funny counterpart to Black’s manic antics. He does boast a hefty set of pipes when he screams like a little girl while being terrorized in the wrestling ring.

We’re treated to a funny training montage, where Nacho is pelted in the chest with melons, and Esqueleto gets dung smeared on his face for no apparent reason. The wrestling matches, especially one in which Nacho and Esqueleto fight two rabid, hairy little men, are well choreographed and hilarious. Nacho’s final battle with a local wrestling legend, featuring his flying through the air like Superman, is priceless.

I was surprised at how sweet and innocuous the film is. Iit’s rated PG, so the kids can go. This is the second time the famously vulgar Black has toned it down for an uplifting, family flick (The School of Rock, of course, was the other). Screenwriter Mike White had a hand in both scripts, proving that he seems to know the comic sensibilities of Jack Black best.

Black is one of the funniest actors out there, but in the wrong hands, his stuff can be deadly and overbearing (Envy, Saving Silverman). Sporting a teased afro and mustache, often wearing tights and using a strange accent that makes him sound like Ren of Ren & Stimpy (especially when he says “stinky"), Black gets to cut up in a way he hasn’t been allowed to before. Tenacious D fans will have fun with the film because Black performs not one but two musical numbers with D power (a full length Tenacious D film is due later this year).

Like Napoleon, this film takes time with its jokes, and that can be stressful for the more anxious comedy fan. Hess draws things out to absurd lengths and stresses the oddities in his characters to a degree that some might find annoying. It’s fair to assume that many who don’t like this film the first time might enjoy it somewhere down the road. One thing’s for sure: It’ll make a heck of a DVD double-feature night with Napoleon Dynamite.

On a strange note, composer Danny Elfman, after a squabble with producers, had his name taken off the score credits. (He still receives composition credits for the various songs he contributed.) His reasons for doing this are unclear, but the soundtrack features some of Elfman’s best work in years.