Gentlemen Broncos

It's true, Utah looks otherworldly, but in the hands of Jared Hess, it's a tacky desolate wasteland of Members Only jackets and rusted late-model Subarus, where lost souls wander around eating popcorn balls and saying "dang" a lot.

It's another canvas for Hess to paint his mocking, black-velvet portraits of semi-rural losers too dumb to know that their meager talents will never match the scope of their dreams. This serves as an all-too-apt metaphor for Hess' career so far. After the sudden, stratospheric success of Napoleon Dynamite, Hess hit the mat hard with his wrestling spoof Nacho Libre, and his latest uneven offering is evidence that the director may have peaked at 30.

Gentlemen Broncos is one protracted — and intermittently funny — testicle joke, with enough unique flavor for fans to savor and enough tasteless gristle for critics to choke on.

In some dumpy Western town, a milquetoast teen named Benji Purvis (Michael Angarano) spends his time scribbling a notebook tome called "Yeast Lords," an overheated Freudian adolescent fantasia about hyper-macho killer stags and scarf-wearing Cyclops warriors who have stolen his gonads.

His story (and an entrance fee) earns him a trip to a writer's workshop, where he falls for sweater-wearing temptress Tabitha (Hailey Feiffer), whose ruby-cheeked wholesomeness hides something faintly dirty. Benji also meets his idol, Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), a pretentious and phony sci-fi novelist. Clement's a blast, decked in puffy 1980s leather and turquoise; his pompous, Cambridge-schooled parlance makes him sound like the love child of Michael York and James Mason. His scenes at the writer's retreat are a high point, tweaking the nerdy world of fantasy novels, including a hilarious debate about the protocols of naming a troll.

Faced with desperate writer's bock, Chevalier steals Benji's "Yeast Lords" and bastardizes it into a bestseller. At the same time, Benji sells the movie rights to a zero-budget local producer, and a collision course is set. To confuse things, we see each author's visions of the story in segments starring Sam Rockwell as Bronco; first as a macho mountain-man riding a flying, missile-launching buck, and then as an albino in a pink cape spewing vomit like a cannon. The $2 effects are as whack as a Sid and Marty Krofft production, and it's easy to giggle at the absurdity. On paper it sounds brilliant, but on the screen it often falls flat — the deadpan gets deadly and the laughs are constantly drowned in grossness or arbitrary weirdness. You keep vainly waiting for Hess to shake his juvenile fixations or treat his characters as humans, not just punching bags.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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