Some of the most popular Mexican films from the early 1950s through to the late 1970s featured flamboyant athletes in colorful costumes who fought evil, whether it was a crime boss or something more sinister like vampires and mad scientists. Even though they wore masks they weren’t superheroes like Batman or Superman. No, they were wrestlers who felled their opponents with flying drop kicks and moves like the Guillotina, a kind of fighting known in Mexico as “lucha libre.” These films made superstars of characters like Santo, “the Man in the Silver Mask,” but since the late 70s they have faded from view.
The new Jack Black film, Nacho Libre attempts to bring back the glory days of the luchador but Santo may not want to take his mask off mothballs just yet. Nacho Libre from the creators of Napoleon Dynamite and the writer of The School of Rock stretches its one joke as thin as a tortilla shell.
Jack Black stars as Ignacio (friends call him Nacho), a cook by day in a Mexican orphanage, who moonlights as a lucha libre wrestler to raise money for the orphans. Black will stop at nothing to make us laugh, but having no shame isn’t the same as being truly hilarious. His deadpan performance has its moments, but all too often we are expected to simply find the sight of his shirtless jiggling round torso funny. When we do laugh, we’re laughing at him, not with him.
Nacho Libre is a comedy that confuses silly with funny. It’s a skit that runs ninety minutes. The best thing I can say is that Jack Black is funnier here than he was in King Kong… but just barely.