You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Gentlemen Broncos

Co-writers Jared and Jerusha Hess have concocted a fresh batch of socially awkward characters to do their comic bidding.

Benjamin Purvis - Michael Angarano Judith Purvis - Jennifer Coolidge Tabatha - Halley Feiffer Lonnie - Hector Jimenez Bronco/Brutus - Sam Rockwell Ronald Chevalier - Jemaine Clement Dusty - Mike White

Napoleon Dynamite seems perfectly well-adjusted (not to mention downright charismatic) compared to homeschooled mama’s boy Benjamin Purvis in “Gentlemen Broncos,” the latest oddball character portrait from one-trick helmer Jared Hess. This time, the misfit in question is an aspiring science-fiction writer easily upstaged by his idol, a pompous (but published) fantasy author, played by “Flight of the Conchords” star Jemaine Clement like the cosmic love child of Tim Curry and Orson Welles. Pic tickled its target demo at Fantastic Fest, though it’s hard to imagine Fox Searchlight reaching enough geeks in theaters to come anywhere near “Nacho Libre’s” $80 million.

Returning to Utah, co-writers Jared and Jerusha Hess have concocted a fresh batch of socially awkward characters to do their comic bidding. Benjamin (Michael Angarano) inhabits a geodesic dome home with his widowed mother (Jennifer Coolidge) and desperately tries to keep his father’s memory alive by writing over-the-top stories about an intergalactic hillbilly named Bronco (whose exploits we see enacted in classic ’70s B-movie style by Sam Rockwell). Benjamin has one heck of an imagination but no life experience to draw from, making for strange, sexually frustrated tales of yeast harvesting and gonad extraction (excrement and testicles being the pic’s two predominant motifs).

Popular on Variety

At a writers’ camp for like-minded shut-ins, Benjamin meets Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) and her best friend, Lonnie, an androgynous “Pat”-like character played by “Nacho Libre’s” Hector Jimenez (whose unisex wardrobe and generally inappropriate conduct offer contradictory clues as to his/her actual gender). With this pair’s encouragement, Benjamin submits his “Yeast Lords” manuscript to a contest judged by his personal hero, washed-up sci-fi sensation Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Clement), who changes a few names and details before submitting it as his next bestseller.

Now called Brutus, Rockwell’s character re-emerges as a tranny space cowboy in several campy cut scenes that reflect Chevalier’s “improvements” to Benjamin’s original vision. Without these frequent Bronco/Brutus digressions, Hess would hardly have a feature on his hands. Plot is hardly the priority in the hour or so that remains, with fanciful comic digressions (including the appearance of Mike White as an ill-advised but much-needed male role model in Benjamin’s life) filling the time until he inevitably confronts Chevalier about the plagiarism.

Not unlike “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Gentlemen Broncos” serve as a study of acute social retardation. But Jon Heder brought something to that character that’s missing from Angarano’s performance, which more closely resembles the slack-shouldered apathy of Napoleon’s wingman, Pedro. As fate stacks up against him, Benjamin merely smolders in anger — not an easy character for an audience to root for. Chevalier may amount to little more than a caricature, but he’s infinitely more compelling onscreen.

The novelty, then, is Hess’ eye for kitschy detail, evident in everything from the sweater Benjamin wears while hawking his mother’s “country balls” to Lonnie’s endearingly amateur camcorder adaptation of “Yeast Lords.” While the effect is caustically misanthropic, the helmer appears to feel genuine affection for these tacky reflections of his Midwestern upbringing (much as he does for the inbred-looking extras who populate the film’s supporting cast). But with no message beyond the superficial absurdity of it all, Hess is in a precarious position to be critiquing the intellect or artistry of anyone else.

The creative team has taken great care in replicating the hand-painted pulp book covers (showcased in a terrific opening credits montage), devoting a good chunk of the budget to making the special effects look as lo-fi as possible, the retro vibe echoed in such vintage tune selections as Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525.” After upgrading to a rich visual look for “Nacho Libre,” Hess returns to the flat cinema stylings of “Napoleon Dynamite” d.p. Munn Powell.

Gentlemen Broncos

Production: A Fox Searchlight release of a Rip Cord production. Produced by Mike White, John J. Kelly. Executive producers, Ben LeClair, Jerusha Hess, Jared Hess. Directed by Jared Hess. Screenplay, Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess.

Crew: Camera (color), Munn Powell; editor, Yuka Ruell; music, David Wingo; music supervisor, Randall Poster; production designer, Richard A. Wright; art director, Chris DeMuri; costume designer, April Napier; sound (DTS/Dolby Digital/SDDS), Steve Laneri; special effects supervisor, Jefferson "Zuma Jay" Wagner; visual effects, Asylum; associate producer, Duff Rich; assistant director, J. Scott Smiley; casting, Meredith Tucker. Reviewed at Fantastic Fest, Austin, Sept. 24, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 89 MIN.

With: Benjamin Purvis - Michael Angarano Judith Purvis - Jennifer Coolidge Tabatha - Halley Feiffer Lonnie - Hector Jimenez Bronco/Brutus - Sam Rockwell Ronald Chevalier - Jemaine Clement Dusty - Mike White

More Film

  • Kirby Dick Amy Ziering

    'On The Record,' Russell Simmons #MeToo Doc, Charts Course to Sundance After Oprah Exit

    Update: A spokesperson for Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering says the filmmaking team will participate in print and broadcast interviews at the Sundance film festival. The accusers featured in the film are weighing press options at this time. Earlier, a spokesperson for the film “On The Record” confirmed to Variety that only photo calls would [...]

  • Ariel Winograd'TOD@S CAEN' film premiere, Los

    Viacom International Studios Signs First Look Deal with Ariel Winograd (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID  — Adding to a powerful and still growing talent roster, Viacom International Studios (VIS) has clinched a first-look deal with Argentine writer-director Ariel Winograd whose latest movie, “The Heist of the Century,” has just become one of the biggest Argentine openers in history. The multi-year pact takes in the development and production of not [...]

  • William Bogert Dead: 'Small Wonder' Actor

    William Bogert, Who Appeared in 'War Games,' 'Small Wonder,' Dies at 83

    TV, film and theater actor William Bogert, who appeared in a recurring role on 1980s sitcom “Small Wonder” and in films such as “War Games,” died Jan. 12 in New York. He was 83. On “Small Wonder,” which ran from 1985 to 1989, Bogert played Brandon Brindle, the Lawsons’ neighbor and Harriet’s father who became [...]

  • 1917 Movie

    Why '1917' Is the Last Film That Should Be Winning the Oscar (Column)

    There’s a feeling I always get at the end of a long Oscar night when the movie that won isn’t a terrible choice, but it’s the safe, blah, MOR predictable choice, the one that conforms to the dullest conventional wisdom about the kinds of movies Oscar voters prefer, because in the core of their being [...]

  • Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock'

    Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock' in the Works as Feature Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Enderby Entertainment is developing a feature film based on Melissa Fay Greene’s civil rights drama “Praying for Sheetrock,” Variety has learned exclusively. The non-fiction book, published in 1991, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, Georgia Historical Society Bell Award and the ACLU National Civil [...]

  • Jared Harris arrives at the 26th

    No, Jared Harris is Not Playing Doctor Octopus in Marvel's 'Morbius'

    The first-ever trailer for Marvel and Sony’s next Spider-man spinoff “Morbius” left comic book fans reeling with theories. While the plight of the main character, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) – a scientist dying of a rare blood disease who accidentally turns himself into a vampire – seemed ripped right out of the comics, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content