Once upon a time there was a weird little thrift-shop comedy
called Napoleon Dynamite. It came out of nowhere (well, almost
nowhere: Utah) with a no-name cast, adhered to no known comedic formula, and
became a smash.
While it captured lightning in a bottle, it had unfortunate
aftereffects. It gave its giraffe-like star, Jon Heder, a subsequent acting
career that defines the term “sophomore slump.” And it empowered
writer/director Jared Hess to keep making movies where eccentricity outweighs
humor. First, there was the disappointing Nacho Libre, starring
Jack Black as a Mexican monk who moonlights as a masked wrestler. Now there’s Gentlemen Broncos, a tedious and unfocused concoction involving
science fiction, plagiarism and the nightgown industry.
Where Napoleon‘s characters were oddly adorable
ugly ducklings, Gentlemen‘s are merely awkward. Benjamin (Michael
Angarano) is a solitary kid who lives in a dome house with his doting single
mom (Jennifer Coolidge). It’s a creative home: She designs hideous fashions and
he fills notebooks with lurid sci-fi novellas. At Cletus Fest, “the best
writer’s camp in Utah,” Benjamin meets bossy Tabatha, a shameless tease,
and his idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement of TV’s Flight of the
Conchords), a pretentious fantasy author on the skids.
The flimsy plot revolves around Chevalier plagiarizing
Benjamin’s manuscript Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years, and changing
the he-man hero into a lisping sissy. The film dramatizes both writers’
versions, with Cyclops soldiers, flying battle stags and bald space babes. Sam
Rockwell (Moon) earns a lifetime Good Sport merit badge by playing
both bearlike Bronco and delicate, hair-swishing Brutus.
The story blows here and there like a tumbleweed, with
Benjamin discovering his manhood by standing up to his false idol. Angarano,
whose odd hangdog face has a winsome solemnity, is one of the few performers to
emerge unscathed. The film’s grotesque violence extends to firehose-caliber
projectile vomit, laser-firing bra cannons and a poisoned dart shot into Ben’s
When she’s struck, you think: Look on the bright side — she
may get to miss the rest of the movie.
Starring: Michael Angarano, Jennifer Coolidge, Jemaine
Clement, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Jared Hess
Rated PG-13 for crude humor
Colin Covert writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Via
McClatchy-Tribune News Service.