Marquee magnet Jack Black, empowered by the recent blockbuster King Kong, the riotous School of Rock, and his High Fidelity breakthrough, might be a surprisingly potent draw for this otherwise dopey comic tale about a luckless monastery cook who becomes an overnight sensation as a luchadore, or Mexican wrestler. Add to the Black name Paramount's huge marketing push that must have cost at least three times the film's modest budget (all-Mexican locations helped), plus huge doses of unrelenting Latino/Mexican flavor, and there just may be an audience for Nacho Libre in Gringo-land beyond easy-to-please kids and male teens. The film might even whip up the curiosity, if not the appetites, of fans of specialty smash Napoleon Dynamite, as Nacho marks the follow-up of Napoleon husband-and-wife team Jared and Jerusha Hess.
At least it looks like Black is having a good time as Brother Nacho, who slaves away making nauseating food for the orphans at a bleak monastery and hungers after the very beautiful but chaste Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera), a new arrival. Unable to court the Sister, Nacho channels his energy and emotions into caring for the kids, especially the chubby and adoring Chancho (Darius Rose), and seeking a way out of his pathetic situation.
Taking a break from monastery tedium, Nacho ventures into a nearby village where he befriends the scrawny, faintly effeminate Esqueleto (Hector Jiménez). An unlikely team, they become wrestlers in no-holds-barred Lucha Libre matches and begin winning big bucks as losers. Nacho, always with his eye on the Sister and a helping hand for the orphans, uses the extra dough to enhance the meals he prepares. But forced to keep his new freelance gig a secret (the friars frown upon such sport), he finds his celebrity does not bring a release from celibacy.
Donning tights and mask at night, Nacho, with his sidekick in tow, grows more popular in the circuit and more determined to make his money as a winner rather than a loser. After setbacks and a near-bungled attempt to crash the party of the luchadore elite, Nacho finally is pitted against Ramses (real life luchadore Cesar Gonzalez), el grande Lucho, in a grande fight that provides the film's grande finale.
Physical violence, silliness and gross-out moments (suspect gooey substances flow frequently) abound, but Nacho Libre is not without its occasional charms. From Napoleon, Hess & Hess have migrated their tastes for the deadpan, the tacky and the underdog (Nacho's Esqueleto is a cousin to Napoleon's Pedro), and writer Mike White's bent for the quirky and the underdog, certainly evident in Chuck & Buck, leaves its mark.
The film's Southern Mexico locations provide a freshness that elevates the lame material, and the wrestling scenes have audio/visual punch. And Black, who always plunges vigorously into his characters, here squeezes into his tights and slips into his fulsome friar's robe with a pro's vigor and commitment. Junk food sells, so quien sabe?