“Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess has once again dived to the bottom of the bins at Goodwill to make the costumes and décor of his new comedy, “Gentlemen Broncos,” as eye-assaultingly unpleasant as possible.
What’s even uglier, however, is the filmmaker’s apparent loathing for humanity. Every single character in this new film is presented with utter disdain, in the hopes that audiences will both feel superior to the people on screen and laugh at their hapless foibles. Lacking any level of empathy or sympathy, however, “Broncos” becomes an exercise in disgust; this feels like art created by people who get their kicks tripping people on crutches.
Michael Angarano (“Snow Angels,” “Sky High”) stars as Benjamin, a home-schooled, would-be fantasy author who lives at home with his mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), who designs overly modest sleepwear for middle-aged women. At the Cletus Festival, a writers’ camp for high schoolers, Benjamin submits his manuscript, “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years,” to a competition, only to have his work stolen by pretentious has-been author Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement, “Flight of the Conchords”).
The hero of Benjamin’s book is a long-haired ass-kicker, but Chevalier turns him into a lispy girly-man in a queasily homophobic plot development. (In both versions, the fictional hero is played by Sam Rockwell.) If that weren’t humiliation enough, Benjamin must also endure the friendship of a church-assigned big brother — Dusty (Mike White, who also co-produced), a snake-toting loser with stringy hesher hair — and two irritating “friends” who option “Yeast Lords” for a low-budget movie, only to completely mess it up.
Some mean-spirited comedy has a satirical edge, or a fresh perspective, or something else that makes it funny and entertaining; “Gentlemen Broncos” is just bilious, offering up one goon after another for audience members to chortle at and dismiss. Even Benjamin — who suffers here almost as much as the protagonist of “A Serious Man” — is completely hapless; we’re expected to laugh at his poverty, at the awful outfits his mother makes for him and at his overall meekness.
If there was ever a sense that Hess (who co-wrote with Jerusha Hess) had the tiniest bit of sympathy with any of these characters, we could laugh with or even at them. As it is, the movie feels like someone handing you a barrel of fish and a gun with the admonition, “Start shooting.”
“Gentlemen Broncos” wastes a talented cast; Rockwell deserves better than to mince about in pink spandex with a blond walrus mustache and matching Marcia Brady wig, and Clement’s own material for his cult hit series on HBO was far sweeter and smarter than anything on display here. As for Coolidge, any movie that makes this sexy and inspired comic performer into an unfunny frump has clearly gone out of its way to misuse its resources.
Comedy is subjective, and somebody out there may find this freak show amusing. All I know is that I didn’t laugh one single time, and I felt creeped-out afterward, like an accomplice to a desecration.
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