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Film Review: Gentlemen Broncos

Gentlemen Broncos (2009; Directed by Jared Hess)


How's my hair look? Just got it did.

An awful movie in quite a few ways, the third feature from Napoleon Dynamite writers-directors Jared and Jerusha Hess still ripples with enough riotous laugh-lines and truly out-there moments to be nearly, almost, marginally worthwhile. The film is at once a love-letter and a sharp send-up of the ridiculousness of hack speculative fiction, and anyone with even a passing familiarity with the genre and the cloistered types who both produce it and devour it will find plenty of chortle-worthy material on the subject. The aggressive tackiness of the design and execution is grating, however, and the Hesses’ baby steps into gross-out humour after the clean-but-never-prudish tone of their previous films seems a mite desperate, even if they reflect the awkward attempts at the same sort of scatological subject matter in the sub-literary genre they’re lampooning.

The plot is, of course, meandering, following the various trials and tribulations of Benjamin Purvis (Michael Anganaro, distinguished graduate of the Michael Cera School of Floppy-Haired Reaction-Shot Comic Actors with No Range). Benjamin is a home-schooled small town teen with a deceased father and a doting mother who designs bizarre nightgowns (Jennifer Coolidge, whose oddball talents are mostly wasted here). He escapes his limited sphere by writing cheapo sci-fi in imitation of his hero, famed author Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement, star of Eagle Vs. Shark, alternate titled Napoleon Dynamite Goes To New Zealand).

Benjamin is a bit disappointed by Chevalier’s pretentiousness when he has a workshop with him at a writer’s camp, though, and winds up being even more disappointed when Chevalier, his meager inspiration already spent, steals Benjamin’s prized story, Yeast Lords, and rewrites it into his latest opus, Brutus and Balzaak. Benjamin must also contend with Tabitha (Halley Feiffer), who manipulates him into “selling” the rights to Yeast Lords to her friend, super-low-budget independent filmmaker Lonnie Donaho (Hector Jimenez from Nacho Libre, whose lips are entirely too much). Mike White (who co-wrote Nacho Libre) also shows up as an ’80s hair-band reject paired with Benjamin as a Guardian Angel (a Big Brothers-type program, evidently). He has a blow dart tube and a huge snake that shits on him.

As Lonnie and Tabitha mutilate Yeast Lords into a feature “film” (Lonnie, like Hess, seems to have a keen eye for Western American locations that suggest fantasy worlds, but shoehorns lame sexual suggestiveness into every scene) and Chevalier further mutilates it into a plagiarized novel, Benjamin’s good-natured astonishment is shattered, and he turns at last to cartoonish revenge violence.

Everyone... please welcome the bride.

The laughs dry up near the end, although a goodly number are provided in the early-going. Clement crafts Chevalier into a hilarious caricature with an affected British accent and a penchant for Navajo-style clothing and accessories, an unused Bluetooth constantly in his ear as a visual marker of his clueless self-importance. The aforementioned workshop scene is a good one, during which Chevalier lectures the various teen attendees on the necessity of giving characters Latinate names to aid the “believability” of their stories (he butts head with a girl who insists on naming a troll “Teacup”). And the Hesses also craft completely loopy enactments of both Yeast Lords and Brutus and Balzaak, starring Sam Rockwell as the protagonist Bronco/Brutus (who is hirsute and hyper-manly in Benjamin’s version and a mincing transvestite in the plagiarized version). These cheesily-staged sequences are only occasionally funny, nowhere more so than when the supervillain’s cyborg deer are employed (the initial appearance of the surveillance doe is the film’s best sight-gag); I’ll take the laughs where I can get them.

Occasional comical bits aside, Gentlemen Broncos is furiously quirky to the point of annoyance, replicating the limited subcultural appeal of the sort of books that it mocks quite well. Basically, the throwaway references to spec-fic in Napoleon Dynamite get blown up into a whole crazy movie here, and the effect is not always particularly, well, effective. Still, I can’t help but grant my begrudging admiration to a film that features the phrase “mammary cannons”. I do have standards, after all.

Categories: Film, Reviews

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