23 August 2010

Movie Review: Gentlemen Broncos


Gentlemen Broncos
2009, 85mins, 12
Director: Jared Hess
Writer (s): Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
Cast includes: Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Coolidge, John Baker
UK Release Date: 3rd May 2010 (DVD)

“Gentlemen Broncos” is the latest comedy from director Jared Hess, the man behind 2004’s offbeat indie favourite “Napoleon Dynamite” and 2006’s monumentally unfunny “Nacho Libre”. “Broncos” has endured a fairly nightmarish journey to home video, its limited theatrical run cut very short thanks to scathing reviews and a disastrously low box-office tally. Ironically “Broncos” is easily a more palatable dish than the horrific “Nacho Libre” (a film that grossed just shy of $100 million worldwide), but it’s still an ultimately unsatisfying comedic offering. Like all of its creator’s previous films, “Broncos” looks sharp on paper, but unfortunately the execution is muddled and the consistency of the product questionable. There are a few inspired moments to be found, but Hess’s film too often succumbs to dead patches of mediocrity and quirk induced tedium.

Benjamin (Michael Angarano) is a lonely and meek homeschooled teen, who spends his days writing sci-fi novels and aspiring to become a published author in his own right. Benjamin travels to a young writer’s camp and submits his work “Yeast Lords” into a competition, the entries being judged by his own personal hero and sci-fi writer extraordinaire Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Chevalier has his own predicament to deal with, his agency is demanding a hit or he’s being released. In a bid to secure his own future, Chevalier plagiarizes “Yeast Lords” under another title of his own creation, and becomes increasingly confident that he has a bestseller on his hands. However Benjamin is distraught upon discovering the dirty tricks deployed by his idol, and his anger is compounded thanks to a group of local filmmakers savaging “Yeast Lords” following a naive sale courtesy of its young author.

“Gentlemen Broncos” is a disappointment primarily because it actually has several things going for it. The premise is solid, the cast effective and some of the jokes are quite amusing, but Hess never successfully engages viewers with the film’s bizarre worldview and fails to uncover any true sense of comedic rhythm. “Broncos” is also horribly paced, the first act dragging out for 40 minutes before the second and third are bungling into a rushed and anticlimactic 45. “Gentlemen Broncos” feels like it should boast a much crisper and conclusive denouement that it actually maintains, a fact liable to leave audiences cold toward the overall property, and ignorant to some of the better material it has to offer. “Broncos” isn’t a despicably awful picture in the same sense as “Nacho Libre”, but it’s still a tough property to recommend all the same.

The performances are a high point, especially those given by Clement and an almost unrecognizable Sam Rockwell. Rockwell essentially plays two characters; both are the protagonist of “Yeast Lords”, but within the imaginations of Benjamin and Chevalier that amounts to a pair of very different personalities. Benjamin see’s his hero as a gruff no nonsense warrior who just wants to regain his missing “gonad” and save the day, but Chevalier paints him as a campy queen in the plagiarized interpretation. In both guises Rockwell is splendidly entertaining and very funny, the contrast between Chevalier and Benjamin’s mindsets actually offering the films biggest chuckle. Clement is excellent as the overblown and pompous sci-fi author, capturing an obscure comedic irreverence that suits the tone of Hess’s movie marvellously. Michael Angarano is low key but fairly sympathetic as Benjamin, finding a nice rapport with the various other performers. The young filmmakers who purchase “Yeast Lords” are gratingly portrayed by Halley Feiffer and Hector Jimenez, the latter gurning his way through the picture in the most obnoxious of fashions. The usually dependable Jennifer Coolidge also pops up as Benjamin’s conscientious guardian, but a subplot involving her career is unnecessary and mostly smirk free.

Hess embraces the aesthetic of tacky sci-fi thanks to a minimalist approach, and provides some good solid satire aimed at hokey galactic cheese, but too often the film endures patches where the jokes misfire and the screenplay relies on lame gross out gags (snake poop, really?) and obvious barbs exploiting the antisocial nature of the script’s characters. The central conceit is promising and individual actors make certain scenes work (Clement deserves a medal for powering through stacks of lacklustre material and still making it sound passable) but overall “Broncos” is a film direly in need of a few extra giggles or at least a more reliable comedic momentum. The fantasy sequences with Rockwell find a pitch perfect tone of gentle mocking, but the rest of the movie never matches up and what’s left is a decidedly hot and cold experience.

The pacing is troubling, the filmmakers completely misjudging when to start and finish certain arcs. Benjamin only discovers that Chevalier is stealing his work in the final 20 minutes (viewers become aware much earlier), leaving only a tiny segment of the film to showcase his revenge against the arrogant twit. Surely this element would have made for more entertaining and smarter viewing than the oodles of screen time which Hess devotes to the dopey film adaptation being crafted by Jimenez. Similarly the first act feels stretched beyond belief and yet the final sections are laughably undercooked and basically wasted. It’s another strange fault in a heavily flawed motion picture. Looking at “Broncos” makes me think that Hess should start to simply dream up premises for films (even the concept at the heart of “Nacho Libre” was pretty good”), because this project proves once again that he isn’t much good at putting his ideas into action.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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