Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

(On DVD, January 2012) After Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, I already know that I’m not a fan of Jared Hess’ brand of so-called comedy and wouldn’t have attempted watching Gentlemen Broncos if it wasn’t for one thing: It’s tangentially about science-fiction writers.  Not SF writers in our universe but in Hess’ typical Midwest Pathetic Kitsch aesthetics, SF writers in an alternate dimension where trashy forties pulp SF has become the dominant aesthetics of the genre as of 2009.  (One imagines a world where Heinlein remained healthy throughout his years in the Navy, became admiral and never wrote the stuff.)  Not that one would expect realism from Hess, whose love for hum-drum small-town settings can’t hide grotesquely dysfunctional characters.  Gentlemen Broncos isn’t about its weak plot or weaker jokes as much as it’s about the awkwardness card played every thirty seconds, stretched over too-lengthy doses of meaninglessness.  Everyone is a moron in this film and if Hess remains somewhat attached to them in a non-condescending fashion, it’s not an affection that translates into an enjoyable viewing experience.  There are, to be fair, a number of interesting things buried deep in the muck: The opening credits are ingeniously designed through SF paperback; Michael Angarano is sympathetic as the teenage hero (albeit never more than when he finally shows some spine), Jemaine Clement has a very nice voice and can build a memorable comic character as a SF professional plagiarist; and there’s an interesting take on the creative process as we see the same fantasy filtered through three different minds.  But the rest is the kind of stuff for which “cult movie” was defined: Intentionally stilted, deliberately perplexing and consciously crude in an effort to isolate itself from the mainstream.  You can almost see in Gentlemen Broncos the blueprint for a much funnier film (in fact, you can see it in the trailer) –it’s a shame that Hess’ worst instincts are holding back the material.  The “rental exclusive” DVD contains no special features, which isn’t exactly a disappointment.

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