Review: Gentlemen Broncos
PLOT: Benjamin (Michael Angarano) is a young man living in a small town. This unassuming nerd lives with his mother Julia (Jennifer Coolidge), who designs frumpy nightgowns and sells popcorn balls on the street. To escape, our young hero writes bad science fiction. (And I say that with love.) He goes to a writing camp, desperately hoping that his idol, secretly washed up novelist Ronald Chevalier, (Jermaine Clement-THE FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS) will take notice. And he does...by stealing Benjamin's work. While having his novel turned into an amateur film by two local nut jobs, Benjamin discovers the theft, and must decide whether or not to confront the man he has always admired.
REVIEW: I love NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. I quoted it for months. I still giggle every time I see someone put on Chapstick. I'll go see a movie just because Jon Heder is in it. It was kooky fun and I was excited to see the next offering from Jared Hess.
GENTLEMEN BRONCOS should have had the same effect on me. I loved the opening montage with the series of classic sci-fi book covers. I have now downloaded In the Year 2525 to my iPhone. I love the idea that a kid in the middle of nowhere can come up with Yeast Lords and battle stags and make it work. (There is hope for my hamster gun yet.) Sam Rockwell flying through the air on a deer is genius. It had all the elements of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, save one: the heart.
The non-stop, over-the-top physical gags seemed far too deliberate, as though they were trying to recreate the quotable humor from DYNAMITE. The movie completely relies on them. The characters have no depth, and therefore, I couldn't care less about them. With the exception of Angarano, everyone played their roles so broadly that it was difficult to find any redeeming qualities. Sure, I laughed at Clement's accent for a while. Coolidge made me giggle with her frumpy outfits and stringy hair. I was amused for a little watching Benjamin squirm while local film makers Tabetha (Halley Feiffer) and the giant-toothed Lonnie (Héctor Jiménez) turned his baby into an awful amateur film. But after a few minutes, I lost interest. You know your dorky best friend from grade school that chewed on Smurf figures and knew the words to every M.C. Hammer song by heart? You found it endearing, not because it made you laugh. It was because it made you laugh and you had long talks about girls and fought off bullies together. Goof has to be grounded. Even Mike White suffered here. Normally, this man needs to do nothing more than show up to make me laugh, but his character seems to be a place holder in a bad wig.
I've heard this plagiarism by a teacher/mentor story many times from writer friends of mine. As a lifelong fan of science fiction, even bad science fiction, I really do appreciate the imagination that it takes to make yeast farming and battle stags into a story. Especially in a drab and boring town. I spent countless hours imagining the worlds my favorite authors came up with. They took me out of my Long Island eighties reality and transported me to colorful, exciting locales. The fantasy sequences, where we see Benjamin's vision, Tabatha and Lonnie's attempt to recreate it and Chevalier's plagiarized version, were a lot of fun. Sam freaking Rockwell on a battle stag! But if the point of the story is how devastating it is to have your one outlet stolen, I need to see how important it is to you. Between Julia's popcorn balls, snakes pooping on Dusty and Lonnie's teeth, Benjamin seems to live in a weirdly entertaining world. Certainly silly enough to amuse someone until they leave for college. If there had been more of a contrast, the film would have worked a lot better.
Kitschy films like this always have their supporters. I'm normally one of them. Angarano does his best with what he has to work with. Rockwell has that look of joy actors get when a director tell the to do whatever the hell they want. Unfortunately, GENTLEMEN BRONCOS feels like a Saturday Night Live skit that's gone on about ten minutes too long.