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Gentlemen Broncos

A Disappointing Failure

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars.

If pink projectile vomiting, explosive snake diarrhea, and other miscellaneous bodily secretions are your idea of fun, then Gentlemen Broncos, Jared Hess’ (Nacho Libre, Napoleon Dynamite, Peluca) latest film, is for you. If nothing in that list sounds even remotely funny to you, then you should give Hess’ latest a pass.

No longer content with borderline offensive characters or humor, Hess has crafted one of the most mean-spirited, unappealing comedies in recent memory. Long on condescension and mockery and short on verbal sophistication or routine physical humor, Gentlemen Broncos speeds past misfire and straight into career-threatening failure.

That might sound harsh, but after sitting through 90 excruciating minutes, you’ll probably feel the same way. Gentlemen Broncos focuses on sad-sack hero Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano), a socially awkward, painfully introverted, home-schooled teenager. Benjamin lives in a modular-shaped house with his suffocating, overprotective mother, Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), a dress designer by trade (they’re ugly, of course). A hardcore science-fiction/fantasy geek, Benjamin dreams of becoming a successful author like his idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Benjamin has just completed what he considers his magnum opus, The Yeast Lords — yes, that’s really the title — and hopes to get it published some day.

Despite seemingly impoverished circumstances, Judith scrapes together enough money to send Benjamin to the Cletus Fest, a two-day writing retreat. There, Benjamin finally meets the overbearing, egocentric, arrogant Chevalier, as well as another writer, Tabatha (Halley Feiffer), who quickly takes advantage of Benjamin’s good nature by borrowing what little money he has and using it to buy junk food with her best friend, Lonnie Donaho (Héctor Jiménez), a lisping Latino who speaks accented English through a perpetually wide grimace.

What Benjamin doesn’t know is that Chevalier is about to lose his publisher. What he does know, however, is that his idol is judging the writing contest connected to the fest. A desperate Chevalier, eager to revitalize his stalling career, steals Benjamin’s manuscript — who apparently doesn’t have an electronic copy — and publishes it under his own name.

If that sounds fairly straightforward, it’s not actually. Hess breaks up Gentlemen Broncos with intentionally cheap-looking dramatizations drawn from Benjamin’s writings headlined by Bronco, a blustering, long-haired, bearded-action hero loosely modeled on his late father, a game warden. Other failed attempts at metafictional commentary and comedy include a loose adaptation of Benjamin’s book by Lonnie and Tabatha, and Chevalier’s dissimilar spin on the same material, albeit with a less masculine hero who looks like a late 70s-era metal guitarist, for a presumably comic effect.

When Hess isn’t focusing on his hapless, passive hero and his minor misfortunes, he’s relentlessly pursuing laughs through condescension and mockery of every major and minor character. Unlike Napoleon Dynamite, where the protagonist’s willful blindness toward his own shortcomings was used both as a source of humor and commentary, here the characters' willful ignorance of their failures and faults is used to bludgeon the audience into laughs. It’s initially successful, but once it’s clear that Hess has nothing to say about fiction, writing, or relationships, it becomes a major obstacle to drawing anything that could be called pleasurable from Gentlemen Broncos.