Reviewed by

Bud Carlson

Jack Black, with his hardly-superhero-esque physique, puts on spandex pants, a mask and a cape to play the title character in “Nacho Libre.”  By day, he is Ignacio, the cook at the monastery / orphanage where he grew up, in a timeless village in rural Mexico. But by night, he is “Nacho” the luchador, a wrestler who routinely loses matches to more accomplished (and more fit) adversaries.

In Mexico during the 1950’s and 60’s, luchadores enmascarados were revered as being among the biggest celebrities in that society, particularly among the ordinary folk. The wrestlers would assume colorful and outsized personalities, like movie stars, and their fights would be as much about entertainment and showmanship as they were about athletics. 

Growing up in the orphanage, our lead Ignacio dreamed of one day becoming a wrestler as well, just like his heroes. However, the church frowns up professional wrestling, so he didn’t dare to mention his dream to anyone.  Now, as a grown member of the brotherhood in the monastery, relegated to kitchen-duty because he “doesn’t know a buttload of crap about the gospel”, Ignacio decided that it is now-or-never for him to pursue his dreams of wrestling. (Fortunately luchadors tend to be masked, which will help him to conceal his identity.) So Nacho is born, and he teams up with a dirty, 115-pound street-thief that he renames Esqueleto (translated: the skeleton, and played with verve by Hector Jimenez), to become the town’s newest wrestling sensations, all the while keeping it a secret from the beautiful Sister Encarnacion (a nun for whom Ignacio has un-priest-like desires) and the others in the monastery. 

You would think that teaming Jack Black and Jared Hess (the writer and director of “Napoleon Dynamite”) would result in a really funny movie. After all, Jack Black is as funny as there is these days, and “N.D.” was hysterical; together, they should be a match made in heaven. But alas, this movie shows that pairing to have been a bad idea. Their styles are opposite. “N.D.” was funny because it had quirky characters doing things that seemed strange to us, yet seemed perfectly natural to them. In contrast, Black is doing things that seem strange to us, and strange to him as well. Black isn’t really a character-actor kind of guy; he’s more of a “dress me up and watch me do my thing” type. On many many many occasions in “Nacho Libre”, Black mugs and smirks to the camera, as if to remind us that it’s him that’s funny, not Nacho. And that doesn’t really work within the story that Jared Hess created; that’s not what Hess needed the character of Nacho to be.

Look, the humor in this movie is simple: Jack Black (playing Ignacio, Nacho, or whomever) has absolutely no business being in the ring as a professional wrestler, but yet there he is, prancing around in the ring with belly bulging and muscles sagging, with a self-confidence that is totally the inverse from his skill and ability. He is a deluded loser, totally unaware that he doesn’t belong there, that he wasn’t in fact born to be there. It’s funny that he takes himself so seriously. 

The movie leaves it to Black alone to get the laughs in this one. While Black is funny-as-hell, and almost charming enough to be able to pull this one off, he just can’t get it done.  This one should have been better.

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