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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Nacho Libre

Review by Kevin Crossman

Nacho Libre is a quirky but ultimately cheerful film that succeeds largely on the shoulders of it's star Jack Black. Playing Mexican friar Ignacio, Black tones down his usual frantic act, but there's more than enough "Jack-isms" to satisfy longtime fans or to upset potential new ones. There are funny lines and funny situations, but like a silent movie most of the comedy in Nacho Libre comes from facial expressions, head nods, and strange juxtaposition of body types.

Ignacio is a friar working at an orphanage in 1970's Mexico. An orphan himself, he tirelessly works as a meager cook but has dreams of being a Mexican wrestler, or luchadore. At odds with the priests, Ignacio soon meets a new addition to the church, beautiful Sister Encarnación played by Ana de la Reguera. Ignacio is torn between his love of wrestling, his infatuation with Sister Encarnación, and his committment to the church. Hoping to raise money to obtain better food for the orphans, as well as to gain respect, he decides to join the Lucha Libre and fight as a luchadore named Nacho. He befriends Esqueleto, a street urchin played by Héctor Jiménez. Togther these two form a classic tag-team of the "skinny one" and the "fat one." Black and Jiménez have good chemistry, never better than when Black says that he believes in God. Jiménez says he doesn't believe in God -- he believes in science. This is a good example, of the quirky humor shown in Nacho Libre director Jared Hess' last film, Napoleon Dynamite.

The movie's success centers on Black's performance. Can he be believed as God's servant, rather than his usual Satan-loving maniac? It's a tricky balance and Black pulls it off quite well. There are a couple somewhat forced situations where Black's character sings. These force credibility, especially when Black pulls out the do-be-do air trumpet. It's one of the rare bits that takes us out of the reality of the film. Black also has several effective scenes with Darius Rose who plays an orphan. Every so often the movie reminds us of Ignacio's love of the children, which helps us to understand his motivations. That said, like Napoleon Dynamite this kind of performance and comedy isn't for everyone. This isn't broad comedy, folks.

The movie's plot follows the standard sports model, albiet with some interesting and unexpected twists. They lead us to a rousing and satisfying wrestling match that brings the excitement of the Lucha Libre. The fight scenes are shot and edited well, and Danny Elfman's score is effective at building tension.

Shot entirely in Oaxaca Mexico, the film has a lyrical look similar to Napoleon Dynamite. There are a host of interesting looking locals with small parts or who are seen as extras. These add much flavor and credibility to a movie that serves to pay tribute to the people of the region, not to mock them. We found many of the shots, angles, and people in this film amusing and we credit the filmmakers for casting Mexicans in the roles apart from Black obviously.

The love story with Sister Encarnación is effective and unique. de la Reguera is sweet and just plain gorgeous, and does a good job playing off of Black as well. You can definitely feel the tension between the characters as they discuss their vows of celibacy. There's a satisfying ending to this storyline, though like The Break-Up it may not be what you expect.

Will Frat Pack fans like this movie? As noted, if you're a fan of Jack Black it will definitely help. He has several short bursts of energy, such as when he accelerates on his moped. While the movie does not feature any raunchy plot devices or an extremely farcical plot, it does feature a "man child" lead character typical of the genre. But, make no mistake, this is a movie from Nickelodeon Films and so it's definitely for kids. Don't let that stop you from seeing it, however. There's plenty for adults smile and enjoy about this movie, especially Jack Black's performance. We liked this movie a lot, and while it probably won't go down as a classic film we think you'll enjoy it. A strong 3 "beer mugs."