In 2004, the husband and wife team of Jerusha and Jared Hess unleashed the quirky independent film Napoleon Dynamite on the masses. With the backing of MTV, the film went on to become a cultural phenomenon, quoted throughout every school and launching the career of Jon Heder (well, kind of). The Hesses followed this up in 2006 with the Jack Black lucha libre film Nacho Libre, which was not met with the same critical and commercial success, but to some (including this reviewer) was even funnier than their first film.
Three years have passed since Nacho Libre, and the Hesses have reappeared on the movie scene with their latest film Gentlemen Broncos — at least they were supposed to. After some disastrous test screenings and some early critical drubbing, the film’s planned wide release was shelved and it only ended up showing in a handful of theaters. After watching this movie, I unfortunately have to agree with this move.
Gentlemen Broncos follows Benjamin (Michael Angarano), a home schooled kid who is a closet sci-fi writer. Sent to Cletus Fest, a writing workshop, by his designer mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), he meets his idol, Dr. Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), who is judging a writing contest for the camp, with the winner getting a small publishing run. Benjamin submits his story entitled "Yeast Wars," which Chevalier proceeds to plagiarize and release as his own work.
If you watched the trailer, this is the way the movie was presented. There is a whole other subplot, however, that needs to be mentioned. While at Cletus Fest, Ben meets fellow home schoolers Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) and Lonnie (Hector Jimenez). They buy the rights to "Yeast Wars" and set out to adapt it into a low budget and, yes, crappy film. All the while no one realizes that the book has been plagiarized and will be released soon.
I wanted to love this movie, I really did. The trailer had looked so promising and, best of all, different from most of the movie dreck that comes out nowadays. Gentlemen Broncos is original, I will give it that; the thing is, nothing too entertaining is done with this. The teenagers are the same kind of quirky that was found in Napoleon Dynamite, but somehow made even more awkward, resulting in a more uncomfortable watch. Characters are added in for no reason or are given nothing interesting to do. Mike White is a great example; he plays the character of Dusty, Ben’s Guardian Angel (like a Big Brother-type thing). He cracks a few jokes, acts in the film adaptation of "Yeast Wars," and that’s about it. He’s just there. Jennifer Coolidge as Ben’s mom gets some laughs in, but she could have been played by anyone less talented and it would have sufficed. Coolidge was wasted, pure and simple.
There are two saving graces to Gentlemen Broncos: Jemaine Clement and Sam Rockwell. Clement absolutely owns his role as the "villain" of the story, using the same humor he brings to the HBO show Flight of the Conchords. If you like the show, you’ll like his offbeat brand of humor he brings to this film.
Rockwell’s role is a bit different: when both "Yeast Wars" and Chevalier’s ripoff "Brutus and Balzac" are read out loud, it is acted out, with Rockwell playing the main hero. He gets the most laughs out of the film, playing two very different versions of the same character, depending on which version is being read. The way he plays them so differently is amazing and his acting is so top notch, you almost feel bad he was roped into this film. To state it plainly: Rockwell deserves good roles, many Oscars, and my phone number.
Gentlemen Broncos is a very awkward and hard-to-market movie. Badness aside, I can understand why it was pulled; even if it had great reviews, the structure of the film and the sense of humor are not exactly crowd-pleasers and it likely would have tanked, even with a massive ad campaign. I personally would not recommend it, unless you are a big Rockwell/Conchords fan or really love Jerusha and Jared Hess's style of humor.
Gentlemen Broncos will be released to DVD/Blu-ray in 2010.