“Gentlemen Broncos” is a coming-of-age, sci fi comedy about plagiarism. It’s also the latest film from “Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess. That means it’s even more idiosyncratic than the description given in the first line of this review.
Written by Jared and (wife) Jerusha Hess “Gentlemen Broncos” tells the story of aspiring fantasy writer and home schooled teenage outcast Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano). He writes strange sci fi stories that lead people to ask if “some kind of weird surgery” inspired his work. After attending Cletus Fest, a fantasy convention where he hoped to pick up writing tips from his hero, writer Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), his creative life becomes complicated when his novel, “Yeast Lords,” is turned into an extremely low budget film, and plagiarized by Chevalier.
Up until now Hess’s films have been strange slices of life buoyed by strong comic performances and some good jokes. But what felt so fresh in “Napoleon Dynamite”—the oddball comic timing and unconventional American Grotesque casting—this time out feels gimmicky, as if Hess and company are masking a lack of original ideas with his tried and true and, by now, on his third film, somewhat tired trademarks. As a filmmaker he has a unique voice but, like the drunk guy at the party who speaks louder than everyone else to get his point across, Hess is stylistically shouting to cover a lack of jokes.
Angarano, a talented young actor in the Michael Cera mode, is fine here but gets bowled over by a cast of curiosities. Jennifer Coolidge, as Benjamin’s mother rides the line between eccentric affectation and real life, raising a few laughs along the way, but Jemaine Clement, best known as half of “Flight of the Concords,” is nothing but eccentric affectation and hilariously so.
His take on the über pretentious novelist—who sounds like “Logan’s Run” era Michael York and signs off his speeches with the coda `May the glistening dome of the Borg queen shine her light on us all,”—is over-the-top and silly, but brings the funny.
In a tutorial to a class of aspiring writers he speaks of “the power of the suffix” when creating names for fantasy stories. Adding the suffix “onius,” “ainous” or “anous” he says, will yield the perfect name. For example, “bronco,” becomes “broncanous,” probably the best new word of the 21st century.
Unfortunately that’s the highlight, and that joke was given away in the trailer. “Gentleman Broncos” left me wanting more and less of Hess—more of the freshness he displayed in his earlier work, less of his clichéd trademarks.