Don’t mess with a Missionary man. In tights.
Nacho (Jack Black) is an orphan who grows up unwanted in a Mexican mission until, as an adult, he becomes a cook for the clergymen and the most recent orphans their order has taken in. Yet, his entire life seems unfulfilled because Nacho also dreams of earning the respect that come from being a Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) champion. When funds become too tight to feed the orphans and the last of what was donated is stolen, Nacho decides that only by secretly becoming what he’s always dreamed and winning a match can he provide for his charges. Fortunately for Nacho, even the losers make a few bucks here and there…
Give it up for Jack Black. While his best stuff really isn’t kids stuff, he seems to possess that sincerity that kids can spot instantly as friend or phony. Whether or not Black’s powers come from being a kid at heart or just the ability to make a fool of himself for the sake of the production, Black’s natural energy has the ability to take even a mundane character and infuse it with must-have vim and vigor. After the reigned-in and subdued Mr. Black from Peter Jackson’s King Kong, it’s nice to see the star of School of Rock hasn’t lost anything along the way.
The film itself also seemed bred from Jack Black’s self-induced on-the-spot inventiveness. Take the way young Nacho conceives his Lucha costume from bits and pieces borrowed here and there, or the combination two-seat scooter and wheelchair that Black and his tag team partner use to get into town and back. It can be argued that there is an subtext about materialism and making due with what you have, but the opportunity to turn these things on their head to generate one more smile from the audience becomes an obsession for the director.
Nacho Libre is a Nickelodeon production, so the core audience this is directed at is kids who can attend a PG showing. This shouldn’t be an excuse, of course, for a poor story, but the final product of Nache Libre seems abbreviated, as though scenes deemed un-Nickelodeon-like or containing too much Jack Black were left out. This happens mostly at the end, but by then you would think the film would take a few bows (or in Jack Black’s case, a few encores at least), but the movie seems to end abruptly.
Jack Black fans (of which you can count me among) will find more to hold their attention than those who are not. For everyone else, it’s safe enough for children but still clever enough to keep the parents from yawning too often.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)