Unlike a lot of people who thought they were stupid, unfunny, and awful, I liked both of writer/director Jared Hess’ first two movies. I found Napoleon Dynamite hilarious and Nacho Libre a lesser but worthy successor. So, it was with more than casual interest that I watched the DVD of his latest effort, Gentlemen Broncos. I found it somewhat stupid, mostly unfunny, and not awful but not very good. When you can’t even put something together to satisfy a fan who wants to like your movies, you are in a little trouble.
An homage to the science-fiction novels that Hess and his wife and co-writer Jerusha Hess must be fans of, Gentlemen Broncos stars Sky High’s Michael Angarano as budding writer and all-around quiet nerd Benjamin. He attends a writing camp featuring his idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jermaine Clement), a pompous icon who has had less success as of late. With his publisher threatening to drop him, Chevalier steals Benjamin’s submission to a camp contest, the interestingly titled “Yeast Lords,” and publishes it as his own. Meanwhile, Benjamin has sold his story, which involves his hero’s testicles being used to make clones (I think), to some terrible local filmmakers (Hector Jimenez and Halley Feiffer).
There are three movies within the movie adapting Benjamin’s book. One is in Benjamin’s mind, where the hero, played by Sam Rockwell, is a mountain-man type with a long beard and a gruff manner. One is in Chevalier’s mind, where Rockwell again portrays the hero, this time as a swishy Edgar Winter lookalike. The third is Jimenez and Feiffer’s low-budget film, where the boyfriend (Mike White) of Benjamin’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge) plays the hero. The low-budget movie is clearly intentionally cheap and terrible, but even the visions of Benjamin and Chevalier are intentionally cheap and terrible. Maybe someone with a better knowledge of science-fiction books would see some satire at work here; I just didn’t get it.
The humor in this movie can be very dry, and Clement, half of the hilarious comedy music duo Flight of the Conchords, is the only one who consistently delivers. His explanation of how the rules for troll names work or reciting the lyrics from a song without sound from his book are great. Unfortunately, very little else works. There are lots of subplots, the worst of which involves Benjamin’s mom trying to get her business making unappealing nightgowns for older women off the ground. Also, unlike Hess’ previous films, there is an attempt to use sophomoric humor for laughs here that is off-putting. A snake craps on a guy, Benjamin vomits right before someone kisses him, Benjamin’s mom wants him to touch her “country balls” (two large popcorn balls in a clear sack), and so on. It’s stuff you’d expect in a really lame Will Ferrell movie.
I was really disappointed after watching Gentlemen Broncos. It felt like Hess was being odd for oddness' sake and that he threw in the crass stuff to appeal more to junior high boys or something. I don’t know much about science fiction, and maybe an appreciation of that genre was needed to get more out of the Rockwell scenes. I’m hoping that Hess doesn’t lose his idiosyncratic vision, but he needs to do more with it than this mostly unfunny mess.
The DVD for Gentlemen Broncos is clearly not so stupendously amazing and insightful as to make up for the rather uninspiring film itself. It has a few extras, and the presentation is professional and crisp, but it just tends to disappoint on most levels, like the movie.
There is a commentary by Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, and director of photography Munn Powell. It’s really dull. They don’t have anything interesting to say and speak with flat voices. At one point Jared imitates Jermaine Clement doing his Chevalier voice and that’s pretty funny, but in general they say stuff like, “This was shot at an old furniture warehouse” or “My sister-in-law made that sweater” and sometimes chuckle at a line or scene. It’s not enough to keep your interest.
A movie that disappoints can only have disappointing deleted scenes. Here there are five short scenes, and they were rightly cut out of the movie, although, they aren’t much worse than those left in. It becomes unclear why they were cut out; was it to get the film in at under an hour and a half or did they feel that the somewhat languid pace was even more languid with these inclusions? There is a unfunny scene where Rockwell is playing the swishy protagonist in a cave, which is still funnier than anything involving Mike White or Jennifer Coolidge. In one scene where the special effects haven’t been added, you get to see how the flying deer were filmed in front of blue and green screens, which is kind of cool.
There is a long outtakes section (about eight minutes) called “A Buttload of Keepsakes” that doesn’t have the usual pace and emphasis on humor you get from this type of thing. Also, is it just me or does the title of the extra seem like something stolen from the Napoleon Dynamite script? Some of the crackups and errors in the outtakes are funny, but it isn’t well put together and tends to drag on somewhat.
The only extra that is worth watching is the 15-minute “One Nutty Movie” (that’s a joke about the key part testicles play in Benjamin’s book). Rather than being the usual collection of interviews extolling the movie as the greatest ever, Hess actually shows a bunch of filming and you get a real behind-the-scenes experience. In one part, you see Clement and Hess making up dialogue on the spot, and then they show how it is used in the film. It’s nicely done.
One extra is not enough to make up for the weak film, terrible commentary, and other boring extras. This is just a bad job across the board by Jared Hess, and here’s hoping his next film turns it around.