MOVIE REVIEW- Libre it alone: <i>Nacho</i>'s no <i>Napoleon</i>

When is a smackdown not a slamdunk? When it˙s reviewed by someone who doesn˙t care for wrestling.

I'˙m not one of the people who didn˙t get Napoleon Dynamite, the breakthrough film for the husband-wife team of Jared and Jerusha Hess, who follow it with Nacho Libre.  I voted for Pedro, but I'm not voting for Ignacio.

That's the character played by Jack Black, who's always better when he's being himself (High Fidelity, School of Rock) than when he's trying to pass for the reincarnation of John Belushi, as here.

It's hard to miss the Belushi comparison when the save-the-orphanage plot, in the script by the Hesses and Mike White, borrows heavily from The Blues Brothers.

Ignacio "but you can call him Nacho" grew up in the Catholic orphanage in Oaxaca, Mexico, and still works there as a cook. He wears a friar's robe but his status is unclear except that if he is celibate it's not by choice. This becomes apparent when he sees the new teacher, Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera).

Nacho's other love is Lucha Libre, Mexico's version of wrestling, which is frowned on by his church bosses. Because one tenet of the sport is performing in a mask, Nacho is able to participate, hoping to win money to buy better food for the orphans.

For his tag-team partner he recruits a petty thief, Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez).  When they discover they get paid even though they lose, they become regulars on the amateur circuit. A chance comes up to go pro and earn big money, fighting the champion, Ramses (Cesar"Bronco" Gonzalez).

Admittedly there were times when I seemed to be the only person in the theater who wasn't laughing, but there were also times when I was in the stonefaced majority.  Many of the film's gags are really tired and predictable– Nacho mistaking a live man for dead, picking a fight with the wrong guys instead of the ones who were paid to lose to him, and leaving the School of Rock for the School of Bolero to crash a party with a mariachi band.

Even though wrestling is as phony as a U.S. presidential election (and if you haven't read Robert Kennedy Jr's Rolling Stone article on the 2004 election you should be reading that instead of this), people look like they're getting hurt. With a lot of ring action, Nacho Libre is a very violent movie, making its PG rating the biggest joke of all.  Even outside of the ring there's a scene where a man has his eye put out with a corn cob. You'll love your kids loving that!

The Hesses' idea of humor is filling the screen with people who are either funny-looking or butt-ugly and dress badly. It worked in Napoleon Dynamite, where they had funny things to say or do, but here it's just unpleasant. If you can laugh, Pavlov's dog-like, at everything Jack Black says and does, you will disagree.

It's only been a few days since John Cleese announced his retirement from writing and performing, and the decline in comedy is already noticeable.