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MOVIE REVIEW

'Gentlemen Broncos'

Jared and Jerusha Hess' 'Gentlemen Broncos' treats all its characters like jokes, and they're unfunny jokes at that.

October 30, 2009|Gary Goldstein

Watching "Gentlemen Broncos" sparks the pressing question: "Is it worse to be clueless or self-deluded?" That's because most every character in this ill-conceived curio from the quirky minds of co-writers Jared and Jerusha Hess ("Napoleon Dynamite," "Nacho Libre") is either one or the other -- or both. Satire aside, what the oddball folks here never feel is real, despite the filmmakers' claims of autobiographical parallels. Instead, badly dressed and unflatteringly shot, they come off like punch lines to jokes that never pay off.

Mr. and Mrs. Hess' latest collaboration (he directed as well), set in the couple's home state of Utah, follows the travails of Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano), a home-schooled square of a kid who writes cheesy, over-the-top sci-fi fantasy books that belie his introverted, acquiescent demeanor.

But after his best manuscript, "Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years," is plagiarized by the insufferably pompous Dr. Ronald Chevalier ("Flight of the Conchords' " Jemaine Clement), a famed novelist on the skids, the budding author finds himself facing a weird series of personal and creative challenges.

These include Benjamin's exasperating involvement with fellow attendees of a writers' camp -- Tabatha (Halley Feiffer), a would-be romance novelist, and her sexually vague, DIY filmmaker pal Lonnie (Hector Jimenez), who both also take an interest in "Yeast Lords." So much so, in fact, that Lonnie actually pays Benjamin for the movie rights (500 whole dollars!), unaware, as they all are, that the property's already been purloined by the desperate Chevalier.

The whole conundrum helps Benjamin find his inner Rambo, with which to face down Chevalier. Too bad the boy's wearing a woman's nightgown designed by his entrepreneurial, widowed mother (Jennifer Coolidge) when he does so. It's that kind of movie.

The film really curls up and dies when it re-creates the out-there "Yeast Lords" tale in all its grade-Z, sci-fi glory. Its various incarnations include Benjamin's original story, Chevalier's retooled book version (both of which star a heavily wigged Sam Rockwell as stalwart protagonist Bronco, later twisted by Chevalier into the fey Brutus), and Lonnie's no-budget film adaptation (featuring producer Mike White as Bronco the geek).

Benjamin's hero fights evil and, literally, puts his gonads on the line to save civilization, but these scenes are all so (intentionally) tacky and convoluted and (unintentionally) unamusing they would have been best heard and not seen.

With his deft timing and wonderfully expressive face, the always appealing Angarano ("Sky High," "Snow Angels") gamely tries to hold together what little there is of "Gentlemen Broncos," but it's a thankless task.

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'Gentlemen Broncos'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some crude humor

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: In general release

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