The only way to make Jack Black a viable holy man was to also make him a wrestler. Such is the case in Nacho Libre, where Black (King Kong, Saving Silverman) is Nacho, the holy-but-really-bad-at-his-job friar/cook by day and wrestler by night.
Anyone familiar with the work of Black – his lines from Silverman or the lyrics from rock group Tenacious D – might be confused about why he is donning a cloak and cross. And it’s true, this movie is not only rated PG, but it was also released by Nickelodeon Studios, which has movies such as Harriet the Spy and Good Burger to predate Nacho.
So how is Black funny while being handcuffed to a kid’s movie?
Simple: By being Jack Black. His mannerisms, comedic timing and ad libs propel this movie along so much that Black is Nacho, rather than an actor with an outrageous Spanish accent (that makes you laugh every time you hear it.)
As a monk, Black has to deal with the fact that the sport he loves – Lucha, or wrestling – is forbidden by his brotherhood. To become a Luchadore – a wrestler – and fight against another man is immoral.
Soon, it’s revealed that Nacho is not well respected at the orphanage where he grew up. The elder monks insult him, then when the beautiful Sister EncarnaciÃ³n (Ana de la Reguera) arrives from a sisterhood with a name so long no one will remember it, he is suddenly attracted to her. Nacho is also deprived of the proper money to cook decent meals, so he finds a way to make some: Lucha.
Nacho teams with a shirtless bum, Esqueleto (HÃ©ctor JimÃ©nez), to enter contests for money. They subsequently lose, but still get paid because the Mexican Laurel and Hardy pair put on a good show.
Eventually, the food gets better at the orphanage, Esqueleto starts earning respect and both of them find respectable (and expensive) clothes – all the while riding in Nacho’s motorized shopping cart.
But the movie continues because of one thing: The pair doesn’t win. Actually, they go 0-5 in many hysterical fights – one against a set of midget twins who look like Thing 1 and 2 on steroids – before getting a shot at real competition.
While Esqueleto starts to enjoy wrestling and wants to become a pro, Nacho is trying to keep his secret identity safe from the monastery. They both enter a Royal Rumble, where the winner faces the best Mexican wrestler, the arrogant Ramses (Cesar Gonzalez).
Filled with sports movie clichÃ©s and an old plot to save the children, the movie is strikingly original because it focuses on the small world of Mexican wrestling.
Written and directed by Jared and Jerusha Hess – both now famous for their surprise hit Napoleon Dynamite – Nacho Libre excels as a funny PG comedy, just like Dynamite. Jared brings alternative angles and shots, utilized for the sole purpose of their comedic timing, which is usually lost in the shuffle of demanding release dates. Jershua allows Black to produce the movie and have free reign in what he does best: act off the wall. The comedic pace of this movie is now a signature of the Hesses. But where Napoleon has more random points in its plot, Nacho adheres to a plot followed throughout the whole movie.
Is this a kid’s movie? Perhaps; it does have random fart jokes that seem out of place. But filling the seats will be young adults, mostly fans of either Black or Napoleon, laughing at just about everything Black does, from his skipping run to the amount of slapstick pain he suffers to ridiculous singing that will have every Tenacious D fan wanting to buy the soundtrack.
This was Black’s movie, probably designed for Black as much as his red cape and “stretchy pants” were to fit his pear-shaped physique. Black takes a movie that could have been pinned to a three count from the very beginning and turns it into a knee-slapping pile driver..
Running time: 91 mins