November 3, 2006
Mexican professional wrestling (or Lucha libre as it is known) is the subject of Jared Hess’ (of Napoleon Dynamite fame) new film, Nacho Libre (2006). The sport started in the early 1900s and was mainly a regional phenomenon until wrestlers were brought in from the United States in the 1930s which catapulted it to the national stage. It currently enjoys a cult following in the rest of North America with the El Santos films (a series of movies featuring a masked wrestler turned superhero) and is even referenced in mainstream television shows like Angel.
Ignacio (Black) grew up in an orphanage raised by monks to become one of them but he dreams of being a luchador. In the meantime, he cooks (badly) for the children at the orphanage during the day and transforms himself into Nacho Libre at night. He also finds himself attracted to the new teacher Sister Encarnacion (de la Reguera) and teams up with Esqueleto (Jimenez), a scrawny thief from the nearby town. They train for a tag team wrestling match where the winner gets $200.
Ignacio and Esqueleto lose badly but are inspired to continue and prove to be entertaining enough to be asked back next week for another match. They even make some money and this allows Ignacio to get the orphans better ingredients so that he can actually make something edible instead of the disgusting gruel they normally eat. Their goal is to one day become professional wrestlers like their idol, Ramses (Gonzalez) and along the way they fight some fairly odd opponents, including two pigmy-like wrestlers in a hilariously outrageous fight.
Like School of Rock (2003), this film was tailor-made for Jack Black. In addition to starring, he also co-produced it. The actor plays yet another oafish blowhard but this time he’s on a mission from God and his heart is in the right place. It’s a physical role that allows Black to indulge in all sorts of John Belushi-esque theatrics that his fans are familiar with. He has certainly been overexposed as of late but Nacho Libre reminds us of his initial appeal and is a warm reminder of how good he can be.
After the cult film success of Napoleon Dynamite (2004), writer/director Jared Hess could have easily followed it up with a blatantly commercial picture. I’m sure he was given the offers and had the magical carrot dangled in front of his face. Instead, he decided to stay true to his muse and make a movie about a devoutly religious Mexican wrestler. To be fair, the film does star Jack Black which does broaden its mainstream appeal, and Hess is working with a significantly larger budget, but it still has all the idiosyncratic appeal of his first film complete with an eclectic soundtrack (that features the likes of Mister Loco, Ismael Garcia Ruiz Y Su Trio and Caetano Veleso) and hand-crafted opening credits.
Nacho Libre continues Hess’ fascination with outsiders, what mainstream society would probably call “losers” and finds something admirable about them. For all of their ineptitude, Ignacio and Esqueleto have noble intentions (most of the time) and use most of their wrestling revenues towards helping the orphans. Ignacio is a lot like Napoleon Dynamite in that both are individualists who go against the grain of mainstream society and are shunned as a result. However, they don’t seem interested in being a part of that world.
This film is certainly Hess’ most ambitious effort with a big budget and a larger scale but still retains his personal touch that the trailers failed to convey. Like with Napoleon Dynamite, some might accuse him of making fun of these people or their culture but on the contrary, he is celebrating it. If anything, Hess is making fun of Jack Black’s character who is the butt of most of the film’s jokes. Nacho Libre has a warm, whimsical approach of Wes Anderson film to it, a sweetness that is fun to watch.
There is an audio commentary by actor Jack Black, director Jared Hess and co-screenwriter Mike White. It starts off pretty boring as they munch on their food (hence the “dinner and a commentary” moniker) and offer the occasional banal comment like how one location was so beautiful that they were moved to tears (oh, hipster irony) and that White’s dog was so happy there because it had lots of land to run around in. Another “highpoint” is when they point out the longest scene in the movie. You get the idea. At about 24 minutes in they finally pick up the pace and talk more frequently – too bad it is just more inane comments on this very disappointing track. Avoid at all costs.
“Detras de la Camara” is a slightly irreverent behind the scenes look at the movie with footage of Black rehearsing with a mariachi band and more footage of him goofing around between takes. This featurette mixes talking heads interviews with montages of the actors training for their wrestling scenes. We also see the filming of specific scenes.
“Jack Black Unmasked!” is a promotional special that Black did for Nickelodeon (who backed the movie). A camera crew follows him around and watches as he gets his chest waxed mixed with clips from the movie and a highly entertaining thumbnail sketch history of masked Mexican wrestling.
“Hecho en Mexico” takes a look at the decision to shoot the movie in Mexico with mostly Mexican actors and crew members. We see Hess charm the local press by speaking flawless Spanish and how much the locals seem to enjoy themselves working on the movie.
“Moviefone Unscripted with Jack Black and Hector Jimenez” sees the two actors interview each other and ask such probing questions such as what is it like to work with each other, how they trained to be Mexican wrestlers, the merits of cricket pot pie and so on. This is an amusing extra as the two men joke with each other.
“Jack Sings” features more footage of Black writing and rehearsing two songs that he sings in the movie juxtaposed with footage of the filming of the songs that gives a bit of insight into their evolution.
Also included are three deleted scenes with more of Ignacio’s quest to find the Gypsy Emperor (Stormare) in order to stop losing matches. We get to see more of Stormare’s trademark offbeat acting in this lengthy subplot that was probably considered too bizarre for mainstream audiences. We also get to see more of Ramses in action.
There are three promotional spots including a funny ad for Nacho Libre action figures!
There is an “El Tigre Promo Spot” for an animated Mexican superhero show on Nickelodeon in 2007 that actually looks pretty cool.
Finally, there is a photo gallery with on the set, Luchadores portraits and promotional stills.