Rated PG-13, 90 min. Directed by Jared Hess. Starring Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Coolidge, Mike White, Halley Feiffer, Héctor Jiménez.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 6, 2009
It’s been a sweet ride so far for the Hesses, husband Jared directing and co-writing with his wife, Jerusha, two of the decade’s weirder offerings: Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. Their lucky streak stops dead in its tracks, however, with their new comedy, Gentlemen Broncos, which has none of the naive charm or flagrant silliness of their earlier films. Gentlemen Broncos pushes beyond the perimeter of the previous films’ massive in-jokes to create a universe that is not only nonsensical but unappealing and off-putting to boot. Perhaps this film’s just missing the unwarranted self-confidence displayed by Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder or the antic merriment of Jack Black’s wrestler in tights in Nacho Libre. But it’s not a good sign when a film takes a dependable comedian such as Coolidge and turns her into a flat, dreary presence. Then, as if to compensate for the lack of laughs in Gentlemen Broncos, the filmmakers toss in a surfeit of crass jokes that use excrement, projectile vomiting, and gonad extraction as their punch lines. Angarano stars as Benjamin, a home-schooled teen and science-fiction writer who lives with his mother (Coolidge) in a geodesic dome in Utah. After attending a fantasy writers’ convention, Benjamin finds his novel Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years purloined by Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Clement of Flight of the Conchords, whose pompous performance is the sole reason to see this movie), a successful but pretentious author whose publisher wants to cut him loose. Large swaths of Gentlemen Broncos consist of two different versions of Yeast Lords playing out onscreen. One is Chevalier’s muscular version of the sci-fi saga, while the other is being filmed by Benjamin’s new friends: flirtatious and ambitious Tabatha (Feiffer) and the local backyard auteur Lonnie (Jiménez), an effetely gay caricature. Rockwell, in different guises, appears as the star in both renditions. (Angarano and Rockwell also co-starred in David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels, and Green’s regular music composer David Wingo provides the Gentlemen Broncos score.) White is cast in this film as a “guardian angel” and adds another level of painful homosexual confusion and stereotyping to the film. Ultimately, all the chafing caused by Gentlemen Broncos is likely to leave you saddlesore.