The old adage, "if it isn't any good for the first hour, chances are it won't get any better" is a nice rule of thumb to live by, one that I wish I could use when reviewing films (though, sadly, finishing a film is quite important to judging it). Honestly, I've been far too patient with movies for as long as I've been a cinephile, as I've completed some pretty god awful "films" in my day. One film in particular stands out whenever I think of the horrid cinema that I've actually sat through without turning it off and throwing it in a fireplace or shredder, a film so horribly unfunny that its classification as a "comedy" is truly stretching matters. The subject of my ire? 'Napoleon Dynamite.' Never in my life was I as underwhelmed by what I had just seen. No other film has ever given me such a desire to award a negative film score. No other film ever made me wonder what the hell the people who recommended it were smoking or injecting in their veins. That movie still gets me angry to this day, and it has been more than three years since I wasted valuable, unrecoverable time in order to view it.
The writer/director of 'Dynamite,' Jared Hess, along with his wife and co-writer Jerusha, went on from their (stunningly, dumbfoundingly) acclaimed debut film to create the blubbery pile of awful known as 'Nacho Libre,' the film that forced me to see more of Jack Black shirtless than I ever wanted to see in five lifetimes.
So, why in the name of all that is unholy, did I ever volunteer for 'Gentlemen Broncos,' and actually look forward to it? The trailer. This must have been the year of the great, great trailers, as I was actually convinced to see a number of films based on the intrigue, humor, or originality found in their advertisements. 'Black Dynamite' is the landmark for comedy in one of these spots, but the sheer oddball inanity of the 'Gentlemen Broncos' trailer had me beyond curious about the story. It told the entire premise, and exposed the world to the sheer lunacy that anyone walking into the film would experience, letting them know what kind of insanity to expect. And, amazingly, it wasn't just a culmination of the only funny scenes in the film.
I don't know how the Hesses did it, but they avoided striking out swinging on three pitches.
Normally, films about writing are less than intriguing, as stories of actually doing, or in the film industry, directing or acting, get all the glitz and glamour. But when the aspirations of a young writer to become a writer can be mixed with the beautiful imaginations of Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry (particularly his underrated 'The Science of Sleep,' which shares some themes with this film), success is attainable, though tastes may vary.
Home schooled Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano) hasn't had an easy life, losing his father at an early age, while his clingy, emotional wreck of a mother (Jennifer Coolidge) can't make up for the lack of guidance in her child's life. His escape of the drab and mundane life he seems doomed to is his writing, and his favorite genre is science fiction. During a field trip to the 17th annual Cletus Festival for young writers, Benjamin meets his idol, Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement of 'The Flight of the Conchords'), and even gets to pass on one of his works to the former youth author who made it big. But when Chevalier, in dire straights due to his string of recent failures, steals Benjamin's story, and turns the main character into a tranny, it's war. The little guy who is abused left and right by those who claim to be his friends has to overcome the negative publicity he receives when he is labeled a copier of Chevalier, in order to clear his name, and get the credit he deserves for his work.
I'll admit that despite the funny trailer, I was expecting disaster. What I got instead was somewhat intriguing, imaginative, and strangely humorous. While far from perfect, or even truly good, 'Gentlemen Broncos' is one of those love-it-or-hate-it comedies that will click and become an instant favorite, just like its tone deaf older brother 'Napoleon Dynamite.'
The tale of 'Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years,' the movie-inside-a-movie, has to be the highlight, though the twisted adaptation, 'Brutus and Balzaak,' surely matched and sometimes exceeded its originator. Sam Rockwell (who is damn near unrecognizable in appearance and voice) deserves all the credit in the world for his portrayal of both Brutus and Bronco, the dual heroes. As Bronco, he's manly, stitching his gonads back into his body, waging a one-man war against evil on his rocket mounted battle stag. But as Brutus, his overly effeminate and ridiculous tranny hero, he doesn't seem to truly care about anything, even if he's a hero. The dual performance is a scene-stealer, for sure.
'Gentlemen Broncos' succeeds in giving us a world full of completely unlikeable characters, save for the lead. Lonnie Donaho (Hector Jimenez) and Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) are the easiest characters to hate, even more than Chevalier for his actions. Their manipulations of Benjamin are outright ugly. It doesn't help that Jimenez's grill is ridiculously distracting and flat out repulsive, drawing the eye to his distorted chompers like they were credited actors. Chevalier is pretty easy to loathe, but the film steers us in that direction anyways, so at least intentions were met. The only character able to truly earn our empathy is Benjamin's mother, as Coolidge provides a very zany, mental performance that is very enjoyable, with a sweet as sugar heart, and a few (hundred) screws missing.
'Gentlemen Broncos' will dazzle with its humorous alternative worlds, and the very bizarre scenarios found within, but it does at times fizzle, as the longer it stays away from the fictional world, the more it leaves us wanting it. It's a bit uneven, and at times hideous and cruel, with a very mean spirit, so it most certainly isn't for everyone. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what I just saw. This film isn't for everyone. But I can say it's the first film from Hess that I have enjoyed even remotely, and while I can see why this film bombed theatrically, I do see it having a longstanding appeal to those it connects with. If anything, it's a funny look at plagiarism, which is perhaps the practice that I find the most repulsive in this business, an unethical, illegal action that isn't the least bit funny. I can only imagine the frustration brewing from having one's work stolen, and then being called the knock off. I guarantee I would handle it with less grace than young Benjamin.
"May the glistening chrome of the Borg Queen shed her light upon us all."
'Gentlemen Broncos' arrives on Blu-ray via an AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with a transfer that is actually quite pleasing, though not without fault. No matter what bad or good words will follow, it deserves one compliment: it is much more consistent than the movie itself.
The first noticeable element of the video has to be the edges, as they are beautifully crisp, with even the finest hair sticking out. The three-dimensional pop of the film (at least, in the real world) only emphasizes the lush edge work. Colors are mixed, as the film undergoes a few aesthetic changes that affect the tone of scenes, as the Brutus and Bronco sequences have an increased contrast level and super-saturated colors can be a bit less than pleasant. In reality, though, the very earth-toned color scheme and skin tones are quite natural and believable, very realistic, though an occasional bit of orange can permeate epidermal surfaces. Grain levels are steady, with no sign of scrubbing or wiping. Detail can fluctuate dramatically, as there are some mid-range shots that look more detailed than some of the better close-ups, but other times where finer definition is a wash. Aliasing and banding aren't issues, either. Night shots are the real problem here, as they are filed with horrific crushing, while noise issues pop up from time to time. This is, still, a quality transfer, and worthy of praise, even minor.
'Gentlemen Broncos' may be yet another one of those films when it comes to the sound mix, where you have to keep in mind the lack of activity as a part of the films design and/or budget, when discussing it. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does the film proud, but it's a one sided affair, as it isn't given nearly enough activity to do much of anything. The dialogue in the film is always clear, but also almost always comes from the front channels. In fact, much like the video, the audio takes on different lives, as it were, with each different "reality" or theme, as the real world is very dry, mundane, and inactive, and the fantasy worlds of Bronco and Brutus have a bit more activity and liveliness through all channels. The film struggles to show any real range, but that just may be another side effect of this stripped down film. Even in crowded rooms, in reality, the sound comes predominantly from the front channels. There is also little to no real bass activity, that is, until Black Sabbath's Paranoid begins blaring and thumping through the room. Don't expect much, and you may be satisfied with this track.
Critics hated 'Gentlemen Broncos,' and I can see why, even if I disagree with them. The third film from Jared Hess isn't a barn burner, life changer, or anything like that, but it is subversive and odd, with moments of sheer hilarity from the amazingly flawed, eccentric characters. Sam Rockwell's performance as Brutus leaves one wanting an entire film based on the character. This Blu-ray sports good, but not great audio and video, and a nice, though short, pile of extras. Due to the film's severe love it or hate it nature, I'll just say it's worth a look.