When Jerusha and Jared Hess released their film Napoleon Dynamite, few could really explain its plot or nature. “An introvert from Idaho helps his Mexican friend run for class president” does not very well characterize the ingenuity or comedy behind one of the biggest movies of the decade. With their third movie, Gentlemen Broncos, the Hess brothers have again crafted a plot that does little to explain the overall draw of the film. Unfortunately, this time the strategy does not hold up nearly as well.
Set in a similar universe to Napoleon Dynamite, the story unfolds in an unnamed town in the rural American Mountain West that time has forgotten, where everyone’s dress and lifestyles are twenty years out of fashion and the characters are so weird, you wonder if they could really exist. Benjamin (Michael Angarano) lives alone with his mother (Jennifer Coolidge) and writes immature science fiction novels instead of making friends. He goes off to a special writing camp where he meets his hero, Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), one of the most famous writers in science fiction. Here Benjamin meets a host of wacky, borderline-grotesque friends while Chevalier steals and publishes Ben’s work.
For the first twenty minutes, everything is hilarious. The inhuman weirdness of every last character in the movie is so awkward and strange that one cannot help but smile and spout one “wtf!?”-laugh after another. The best part, far and away, is Jemaine Clement’s (Flight of the Conchords) turn as Chevalier. Every expression on his face and word out of his mouth is a gift. Most Conchords fans will probably enjoy the movie just for the opportunity to see Jemaine on screen.
The movie’s other star power comes from Sam Rockwell, who plays Bronco, the star of Benjamin’s novel. Interspersed throughout the movie are short takes from the sci-fi novel. Each sequence is made to look like a terrible 1970’s outer-space spaghetti western. Again, these are hilarious at first but soon grow tiresome.
Once you are acquainted with the characters’ reality and the writers attempt to guide the script towards a point of drama and climax, things fall flat. The drama and character development barely escalate and the audience must settle for 90 minutes of the same oddities. Laughs become few and far between, and there is no triumphant finale to even approach the bar set by Napoleon’s dance scene.
The movie is a beautiful trip into a strange and pitiful universe that can only be created by this cast and crew. Even so, the inconsistent start-to-finish experience and lacking level of engagement makes this one better for DVD or streaming than the big screen.
Bottom Line: an absolute breakthrough in the art of awkward, but an unpolished film as a whole.