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.