Every school has that kid who impresses everyone on the playground with some sort of stupid human trick: eating worms, dislocating his elbows, belching the Pledge of Allegiance, whathaveyou. After a while, the shtick gets old, and you’ve moved on to someone else. Well, Jerusha and Jared Hess have run out of worms. The Mormon writers blew their wad on Napoleon Dynamite (and the poor darlings don’t even really know what a wad is or how they did it). Gentlemen Broncos is what you’d expect from a Make-a-Wish foundation kid’s dying request: a housebound pre-teen’s cobbled together putrid, embarrassing script with a bizarrely phenomenal cast acting the hell out of it. It’s a lethal concoction of strange accents, bodily function humor, and awkwardness that leaves an unbearably sweet aftertaste in your mouth. Everything could have fit in a tight short film. Instead it’s uncomfortably swollen with quirky attempts to sell more liger T-shirts to home-school kids. While the earlier films of the Hessians let the heart shine through the bizarre, in Broncos, the “aww” factor is almost an afterthought. It’s a sweet thought, but it’s still pretty fucking lame.
Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano) has been writing sci-fi since he was seven years old. After his wildlife ranger father died, he spends his days in the cloying, insane embraces of his lunatic mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), a well-meaning clinger who makes strange clothing for cheap retail chains. Benjamin takes a home school field trip to Cletus Fest — an incredibly low-rent fair dedicated to all things nerd. Benjamin is forced into friendship with quirkstrong Tabitha (Halley Feiffer) and her filmmaking partner Lonnie Donaho (Hector Jimenez). Headlining the conference is science fiction legend Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), an ego-maniacal creep who published his first trilogy when he was 15. Chevalier’s new ideas are failing, so he decides to steal the contest entry submitted by Benjamin, a HarryHausenish blend of Buck Rogers and Dune called Yeast Lords, and makes it his own.
The reenacted scenes from Yeast Lords within the film could and should have been genius, but instead headed toward precious territory — think Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind or even one of Max Fischer’s fuckin’ plays from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. As different people read different versions of the story, the same scenes from both books veer back and forth between Benjamin’s version — Yeast Lords and Chevalier’s renamed and pirated — The Adventures of Brutus and Balzaak. Sam Rockwell plays the hero in both versions: a Jesus bearded, Elvis slurring cowboy named Bronco and the lisping, mincing Hulk-Hogan cum Twiggy tranny named Brutus. Most of the story revolves around Brutus/Bronco trying to fight an overlord for control of the yeast mines. They fight against Cyclopes armed with laser cannons and battle stags, flying stuffed deer with rockets attached to them. With a plot that involves Bronco having his gonads stolen, this should have been fall down hilarious. Most of the jokes seem to involve an adolescent snort laughter about words like ballsack and gonad and tampon. If characters aren’t projectile vomiting, then a battle stag has a cannon coming out of its rectum. Now, if the middle school yuks stayed in the sci-fi story alone, it would have made sense. But the Hessians chose to let the juvenile humor bleed into the main story, giving everything a whack sense of immaturity.
What’s most bizarre is the conflict between Chevalier and Benjamin over the plagiarism isn’t even the main thrust of the film. Chevalier steals the story early on, but Benjamin isn’t even privy until well over an hour in the film. Instead, Benjamin sells the story to Lonnie, who immediately and predictably butchers it into a screenplay. In Lonnie’s version, he plays the female love interest against Dusty (Mike White), Benjamin’s churchgoing big-brotherish figure. Dusty looks like Napoleon Dynamite doing a White Gold imitation from those milk commercials. Which makes sense, I guess, considering that Jimenez plays Lonnie like a developmentally disabled Wilmer Valderamma. With his slow lisp and propensity for spreading his lips in a ObeeKabee sneer, every time he was on camera, you feel like you’re donkey-punching the kids getting off the short bus.
Permeating the film is a phenomenally strange cloud of absurdly excessive cartoonish violence. It’s really disgusting and mean spirited and awkwardly handled. Dusty brings a blowgun for Benjamin to play with when they spy a cat. Dusty dips the blow dart in a brownish mixture of rat poison and his poop. He urges Benjamin to fire on the cat, and Benjamin promptly blows the dart into his mother’s chest. Don’t worry, he gets a chance to use the blow gun later — on a corrupt department store lothario who sexually propositions his mother. After throwing a statue through the man’s window, Benjamin hides behind a car as Don Carlos fires a handgun at the boy. Benjamin dips the blow darts in dogshit and then shoots them into the man’s chest. The fecophilia is a little unnerving, and this from a guy who often reviews films in terms of diarrheic explosiveness.
I apologize if this review is uneven or confusing, but even thinking about the film is giving me an uncomfortable brain itch. If I really went into painstaking detail on all the weird nuances and quirks, it’d be like trying to explain the rules of bridge. By the time I got through, you just don’t want to play anymore. That’s the shame because all the acting is beautifully done. Michael Angarano finally found a niche playing an unlikeable and sad-faced nerd. So long as he keeps away from the kung-fu he’s OK with me. Jennifer Coolidge manages to dance the fine line between adorable and out of her fucking mind. Jemaine Clement’s insane accent alone is almost worth watching the film, bleating in this forcibly refined chant. Sam Rockwell is wonderful, but the characters they force him to play are so embarrassingly one-note, it’s a huge waste. If you want to see him doing some awesome sci-fi actressin’ watch some Moon. The Hessians waste Mike White just as much, reducing him to a part for which they might as well have called in Jon Heder.
I don’t know how deep the tabernacle’s coffers go, but I hope this is it for a while with the Mormon film revolution. Being that close to Sundance has finally gotten to them. Filmmakers as a whole need to stop emptying their eighth grade lunchboxes onto a stale story in the hopes it’ll give them hamburger-phone gold. The indie talent has gotten too strong to be wasted making anus jokes and sputtering t-shirt slogans in an attempt to capture lightning in a bottle.