Sunday, November 8, 2009

Movie with Abe: Gentlemen Broncos

Gentlemen Broncos
Directed by Jared Hess
Released October 30, 2009

Sometimes it seems that the process of making a movie is infinitely better than the finished product. That’s almost certainly the case for the new film from Jared Hess, director of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre.” To hear the cast and the hilarious Hess talk about it, the movie was a blast. There’s one incredible, film-stealing performance in “Gentlemen Broncos,” the story of a young sci-fi writer named Benjamin whose story is stolen by his idol, but otherwise it just doesn’t work, and hearing about it is far more fulfilling than actually viewing it.

Hess and producer Mike White, who also costars as Benjamin’s church-sponsored Guardian Angel, discuss how enjoyable it was to make Hess’ third project. Regarding “Gentlemen Broncos,” White, who previously collaborated with Hess on his second film, “Nacho Libre,” stresses that “had ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ not been a success, it might have been hard, since the script was just as bonkers as the movie.” Hess was thrilled with the reception of his first film, citing how “you make a film and hope that there are people out there who like you.” Audiences fell for the geeky Napoleon and voted for Pedro back in 2004. Now, Hess’ newest film is a bit smarter in concept but just as devastatingly not deft as this first.

There’s a theme of depravity that runs through “Gentlemen Broncos” and leaves no character unaffected. The hero figure is the sheepish Benjamin (Michael Angarano), who can’t seem to catch a break and continually gets stomped on by everyone he encounters. Benjamin’s mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge) and his Guardian Angel (White) are kind-hearted enough who don’t possess a thread of intelligence. Benjamin’s writers’ camp buddies Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) and Lonnie (Hector Jimenez) don’t ever really seem to connect with him, and their superficial interactions and airy conversations make it clear that they’re off in their own weird world. Movies which involve one character continually getting crapped on can be effective, like two radically different examples, “Meet the Parents” and “A Serious Man,” but there’s a limit to the acceptable amount of continuous failure and disappointment that one character, not to mention one moviegoer, can endure.

And then there’s Jemaine Clement. The “Flight of the Conchords” bandmate portrays the eternally Bluetooth-sporting extremely cheesy sci-fi cult writer Ronald Chevalier, Benjamin’s idol. His character is relentlessly over-the-top and absolutely devoid of morals. Yet somehow the impossibly hilarious Clement takes every small moment and overdoes it to a magnificent level. As a result, he’s far and away the funniest part of a movie that just isn’t very funny. Fellow cast members all agree that he’s extraordinarily funny, and he shares that quality with Hess, whose directing style involves spot-on voice impressions of how the actors should deliver their lines. “For me, I have to perform and then tell them to copy me,” he says. White describes him as “the camp counselor you wish you had,” adding that he possesses a “paternalistic maturity.”

There’s no doubt that that Hess and Clement are hilarious, and the rest of the cast is having a ball. It’s as if the audience simply isn’t in on the joke. The awful sci-fi subplot of the film, split into three versions – Benjamin’s imagined visualization of his novel, Chevalier’s modified imagined visualization, and Tabatha and Lonnie’s low-budget filmed version – contains some dutiful references, but in the end it’s far too preposterous for its own good. Unlike classic, trashy, campy sci-fi like “Zardoz,” this story knows it’s bad, in all of its renderings, and that’s not a good thing. Similarly, the movie tries to play all of its characters too outlandishly, and the intersection of all those crazy personalities isn’t pretty. Clement is acting in a movie all his own, and that’s terrific, but as a whole, “Gentlemen Broncos” is just one big mess.


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