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June 22, 2006

'Nacho Libre'

5 out of 5

I've discussed before how subjective comedy is. The same person or situation can be hilarious to one person and annoying to another. For me, Jack Black really tickles the funny bone. Simply the way he moves, either his entire body or just parts of it, makes me laugh out loud.

The last comedian who struck me this way was Steve Martin in his early days (and mine). And I know many people felt that way about Jim Carrey. But while Martin has taken to family comedies and their sequels and Carrey continues to bite the hand that fed him and seek dramatic Oscar gold, Jack Black has inherited the crown as today's comedy king.

Researching his resume for my thoughts about his latest movie, "Nacho Libre," I was amazed to learn that Black has been appearing on television and in films since the 1991 TV movie "Our Shining Moment." While he was 22-years old at the time, his role was "teenage boy" (skater/hockey player). I don't recall the movie, but he must have displayed the same youthful exuberance that he does today at 36-years old.

I first remember Black from "High Fidelity" in 2000. His physical movements and reactions as an opinionated record store clerk were memorable and make me smile as I write this. Next came a series of comedies the likes of which it seems every actor must make before he hits big: "Saving Silverman," "Shallow Hal," "Orange County" and "Envy." I've yet to see any of those.

While critics seemed to first take notice of Black in 2003 with "School of Rock," my point in sharing this history is to say that it will be "Nacho Libre" that makes Jack Black a bona fide movie star. I don't know if it was written specifically for him, but he is absolutely perfect as a cook in a Mexican orphanage who secretly longs to be a famous wrestler.

There's one scene that you may have seen in the trailers where Nacho (Black) is in the ring, fully costumed, squatting and flapping his arms like a bird. He's trying to channel the "spirit of the eagle" in order to rise above his mediocre success as a moonlighting wrestler. This one scene represents the heart and soul of both Nacho the character and "Nacho Libre" the movie. It also represents the good-hearted silliness that is consistent throughout the entire movie.

If you think you've seen all the funny parts in the trailers, think again. Not only are there hilarious scenes that are new and unexpected, but even the familiar ones take on new life in the context of the story.

Besides Black, "Nacho Libre" offers the double whammy of director Jared Hess, who became a sensation with 2004's "Napolean Dynamite." This movie is much more story-driven and, therefore, consistently funny, although hard core "Napolean Dynamite" fans may tend to argue that point. Perhaps it is the creative addition of Mike White, whose origins as a writer come from the dark likes of "Chuck & Buck" (2000) and TV's "Pasadena" (2001), that provide a stronger structure for the movie.

I enjoyed this movie more than I ever anticipated. It should be noted that it is rated PG, so while I didn't originally consider it a "family" movie, it really is appropriate for everyone.

Since watching "Nacho Libre" Saturday night, I've found myself doing something I haven't done in years: quoting lines from the movie during my daily activities. If we should encounter each other and I make an off-the-wall comment like "they might think you're a floozy" or "get that corn out of my face," please don't think I'm crazy. I'm just reliving and enjoying a very happy experience.

  • Jeff Owens is co-owner of Couch Potato Video in De Soto and an avowed movie buff.

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