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Jack Black learns his limits

Posted at 9:09 AM on June 15, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Jack Black is one of those actors who teeters on a very thin tightrope. When he maintains his balance he's excruciatingly funny. Yet quite often he slips off into the abyss of being excruciatingly bad.

When he stays on the tightrope he'll make us laugh till it hurts, but when he doesn't, his wild-eyed mugging is just annoying. He was great as Barry the holier-than-thou sales assistant in "High Fidelity," but as Dewey Finn in "The School of Rock" he was kind of embarrassing.

The Jack Black who turns up in "Nacho Libre" is pleasingly more of the former than the latter.

Mr Black is the living embodiment of young teenage boyishness: raucous with wildly fluctuating self-confidence, cluelessly egotistical. He's a hormonal timebomb wrapped deep in an unattractive package. Black displays all of these traits as Ignacio a young Mexican monk, better known as Nacho. He cooks in an orphanage but longs to be a luchador, a masked wrestler.

He secretly launches his career in the ring, in part to make money to buy food for the orphans, and really to win the heart of Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera) even though she says wrestling is a sin. Vows of celibacy aside, it's clear that the sister would never fall for someone who regularly uses terms like "stinky" and "stretchy pants," but luckily for Nacho he is too dim to realize he has no chance.

Director Jared Hess, still glowing from his "Napoleon Dynamite" success, lays on the slapstick like roofing tar. He subjects Nacho, and his skeletal tag team partner Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez) to a succession of painful indignities, both in and out of the ring. The plot is very predictable, but Black and Jimenez keep it interesting enough to keep watching.

Hess makes good use of the Mexican actors who play all the other roles in "Nacho Libre." Hess lets the camera rest on a range of marvelous faces, deeply wrinkled and full of character. They don't say much, but their bemused expressions as they watch Nacho's strange idiotic odyssey speaks volumes.

This is a summer comedy, with enough one-liners to keep the teenage boys stocked with catch-phrases for the season. It's not great cinema, but it's entertaining.

June 2006
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