There's a pretty simple test as to whether you'd enjoy Nacho Libre or not. Two questions: Did you like Napoleon Dynamite? Do you typically like Jack Black?
If the answer to either question is no, than you can safely pass on Nacho. But if you appreciate the random quirkiness of Napoleon and the zany, melodramatic and overacted comedy of Black, welcome to a comedic goldmine. From the writers of Napoleon (Jared & Jerusha Hess) and School of Rock (Mike White) and the director of Napoleon (Jared Hess), this goofy comedy is much more like that Idaho-based surprise hit in tone and feel than the commercials let on. And while the irreverent wrestling comedy is laugh-out-loud funny and humorously surprising several times, it could have used more of Napoleon's simple likeability and School of Rock's heart.
The film's best parts come from Black's earnest delivery and the traits it shares with Napoleon, like its look and cinematography (even though set in Mexico and not Idaho) and reliance on strange but fitting music. And like Dynamite, this film has plenty of well-delivered and fun-to-repeat one-liners that will be quoted again and again—lines like, "Beneath a man … is his nucleus." Jokes score by relying on wry observation, small details, slow pacing, and simplicity. And perhaps the Hesses' greatest strength is their fascination with the mundane, awkward and bizarre realness of life. Strange-looking characters don't always know what to say and either stare with hilarious facial expressions or nervously stumble through sentences like, "Anyways, I thought you'd like to join me in my quarters this night … for some toast."
Watching (and hearing) two awkward and teen-like adults sitting in a tiny room loudly crunching on very hard toast is enduring and fun in its simplicity and normalness. And like Napoleon, Nacho's best laughers come in understated and random vignettes like this. But the good news for people who criticized Napoleon for only being random vignettes and no plot, Nacho strings its comedic centerpieces on a bit more of a substantial story.
Nacho (played by Black) is a friar at the Mexican orphanage where he grew up. He loves the children, but he feels the other friars disrespect him—giving him lower duties like cooking the meals for the children but without decent ingredients. So, as he slaves over pots of sludge, he dreams of being a famous wrestler in Lucha Libre, a type of free-style fighting in Mexico. When a new—and attractive—nun (Ana de la Reguera) is transferred to the orphanage, Nacho, a slave to his menial tasks and pathetic way of life, aims to catch her eye—yes, in a romantic way. He longs for the kind of attention the great luchador Ramses (Cesar Gonzalez) gets.
Humiliated for the last time by the friars, Nacho decides to make his dreams come true. He talks a street beggar (Hector Jiménez) into becoming his sidekick. And together, they began their secret wrestling career. Before he knows it, Nacho is sucked into a selfish quest for fame and respect that leads him to materialism and neglect of the children. When given one last chance as a luchador, Nacho must battle Ramses, reveal his secret passion, and find a motivation greater than selfish rewards.