Director Jared Hess’ Gentlemen Broncos is an absurd coming of age comedy that manages to be even stranger than his more well-known breakout hit, Napolean Dynamite. This film takes its inspiration from bad fantasy and sci-fi novels which seemed so abundant in the ’70s and ’80s. Imagine innumerable paperbacks about burly men in tights, buxom space women in distress, and awesomely bad alien monsters, all of them covered in cookie-cutter artwork inspired by the legendary Frank Frazetta. The film focuses on Benjamin, played with earnest by Michael Angarano, a teenager who dreams of seeing his own stories share that shelf space.
Ben attends a writer’s workshop where his idol, the eccentric Dr. Ronald Chevalier, gives a hilarious lecture about sci-fi naming conventions. Chevalier’s leather get-up and Star Trek-inspired ear-thing are only the icing on the cake of a performance by Jemaine Clement. Ben decides to enter his story, Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years, into Chevalier’s contest in the hopes of winning a coveted original cover artwork. With his publishing deal holding on by a thread, Chevalier privately decides to steal Ben’s idea, although he adapts it to his own style. This is where the movie gets its more ridiculous scenes. The embarrassingly bad story of Yeast Lords is told in snippets through outtakes from the inevitable big budget movie adaptations – both from Ben’s original story and Chevalier’s tweaked rewrite – starring Sam Rockwell in the lead role.
Meanwhile Ben gets encouragement from Tabatha, a budding romance novelist and film maker he meets at the workshop, to film a low budget home movie version of his story. Once again we see clips of Yeast Lords as told through Tabatha’s scriptment. The supporting cast, including Ben’s mother, are all a little freaky but vaguely familiar. Eventually Chevalier finally publishes the plagiarized story, and the crap hits the fan when Ben realizes what’s up.
Like Napolean Dynamite, I’m not convinced Gentlemen Broncos will hold up to repeat viewings, but these oddball Americana slice-of-life movies are possibly worth checking out at least once if you’re willing to go there. One can’t help but feel that the story would have been better served if Ben had been an aspiring comic book artist or film maker. I liked it ok but the film was a total commercial and critical failure, making it hard to recommend regardless of what I personally thought of it. You have to be in the mood to watch a movie with several scenes that are deliberately bad for comedic effect.
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