- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

A few seconds spent watching Jack Black’s bulbous frame in a unitard is funny. Ninety-one minutes of it is near torture.

The same is true for “Nacho Libre,” Mr. Black’s new comedy teaming him with the creators of the wildly overhyped “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Mr. Black’s comic ego is plastered all over “Libre,” which plays out as if he thinks just entering the frame is enough to send us into gales of laughter.

Mr. Black is Nacho, a kindhearted monk tending to orphans in a Mexican monastery. He can’t afford to use spices or fresh vegetables in the kitchen, so he leaps at the chance to earn some money by entering a local wrestling competition. He enlists the aid of a local named Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez) and promptly gets clobbered by the competition. The crowd loves him, though. He lands a paycheck, and his long-gestating dream of wrestling glory appears closer at hand.

From there, well, it’s hard to delineate a story when there’s scarcely one to tell. Nacho makes goo-goo eyes at the lovely Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera), and if we weren’t so bored, we might be offended by a monk making time with a nun. He keeps finding opponents to wrestle even though the monastery forbids physical violence. He also makes an enemy of Ramses (real-life wrestler Cesar Gonzalez), the lord of the Mexican wrestling scene.

Director Jared Hess showed glimmers of promise with “Napoleon Dynamite,” but he squanders it all in this ill-conceived follow-up. He trots out the same slack-jawed characterizations from “Dynamite” but doesn’t exploit them for any comic payoff. Some scenes begin with a firm viewpoint but die in execution.

Mr. Hess sends Mr. Black’s Nacho scampering up a mountain midfilm to retrieve a rare bird’s egg, a situation rich with comic possibilities. Minutes later, we watch the wrestler slurping down egg yolk. Fade to black.

Har har.

Mr. Black deserves some special award for letting his Bowflex-free physique show in such an unflattering manner. It’s the only brave moment of his performance, which otherwise is taken up with a bad Mexican accent and even worse comic asides.

The biggest mystery here is the co-writing credit for Mike White, who penned Mr. Black’s charming “School of Rock,” a film that maximized the comic’s unique appeal. Surely Mr. White could salvage at least one scene from this wreckage.

Apparently not.

*

TITLE: “Nacho Libre”

RATING: PG (Slapstick violence and flatulence humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Jared Hess. Written by Jerusha Hess, Jared Hess and Mike White

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: www.nacholibre.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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