After coming across some shots from Gentlemen Broncos here on What The Movie, I decided to check it out for myself, because who can honestly withstand the call of flying stags that fire rockets?
I didn't quite get what I expected though. I knew the basic premise of the story before I saw the film, but it still surprised me.
Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano, Sky High) is a young science-fiction writer. When he goes on writers-camp, he finally meets his idol, sci-fi author and all-round headcase Chevalier (Jemaine Clement, Eagle VS. Shark) who announces a writing contest for all participants of the camp.
Benjamin enters his story Yeast Lords into the contest and when Chevalier comes across it he is blown away. In fact, he loves it so much that he rips it off to ensure his future with his current publisher, who is threatening to drop Chevalier unless he comes up with something grand.
Chevalier's adaptation of Yeast Lords becomes a great success and hits the shelves without Benjamin ever knowing it. In fact, he has just sold the rights to the story to filmmaker Lonnie Donaho (Héctor Jiménez, Nacho Libre) and the annoyingly bouncy Tabatha (Halley Feiffer, The Squid And The Whale) who make it into a (very) low-budget production.
Of course, Chevalier finds out about this and manages to publish an article in the local newspaper about how the youngsters ripped his new story off. At the same time, Benjamin finds out about Chevalier's plagiarism and decides to confront him at a book signing.
The reason that this film wasn't what I was expecting was because of the characters. As I probably made clear with my reviews on Garden State and Adventureland, I love the down-to-earth productions that come out once in a while. The Weather Man, About Schmidt, Little Miss Sunshine, The Rules Of Attraction, all those films were great because of the realism their characters portrayed. Films like The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore added a little something to the mix by making their characters just a tiny bit more awkward than people would normally be.
Gentlemen Broncos takes that awkwardness and cranks the dial up to eleven. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it gets a bit old after a while.
Angarano's character Benjamin gets away with the least amount of awkward (Have you ever noticed how 'awkward' is in itself a very awkward word?) written into the part. His role as insecure teenager comes off pretty natural in the long run. Unfortunately, this is thrown off balance by his neurotic mother (played by Jennifer Coolidge, a.k.a. Stiffler's Mom), who portrays the overly protective and basically somewhat deranged fashion designer who means everything for the best but doesn't quite cut it. The combination between the two characters doesn't go much beyond the way Benjamin feels embarrassed about his mother. Which is actually too bad, because I think that if they had toned down the crazy a bit, the relationship might have worked to some extent.
Then there's the duo Lonnie and Tabatha. The latter explodes onto the scene as some kind of arrogant female variant of a douche, but eventually turns out to be semi-ok when she gets a movie-deal for Yeast Lords. The rest of her purpose doesn't get really clear. It's as if she was only put into the story to lead the main character up to an important bit in the film later on.
Lonnie is just flat out weird. Most of us know him from his monkey-boy part in Nacho Libre, and most of us know he has a large mouth, but in Gentlemen Broncos it seems like Jiménez can only talk when his teeth are clenched together and his lips are pulled open as wide as possible. It's kind of funny at first, but eventually it just gets, you guessed it, awkward.
Before I move on to a character that was actually pretty cool, there's one last person to be mentioned: Chevalier. Chevalier is mostly regarded as the God of sci-fi throughout the film, having published his first trilogy when he was 15. That all sounds rather impressive, until we meet the guy. It seems as though he has been stuck in his 15-year old self, but has still evolved into a snobby writer who apparently thinks he's able to judge everything by his standards and his standards alone. There isn't really a lot to say for him except that he has the most impossible voice I've ever heard. Actually, that was one of the few good things about him.
Finally, there's Dusty (Mike White, who also produced Gentlemen Broncos). Dusty becomes Benjamin's Guardian Angel (Which is a project from their local church) when Benjy's mother realizes he has no friends. The only thing Dusty ever does is stand around with basically the same expression, and shoot darts at stuff with a blowpipe. He also stars in the aforementioned low-budget production of Yeast Lords as the main character Bronco. The thing that makes Dusty (somewhat) better than other characters is that he isn't really awkward. He's just there. And he actually comes through for Benjamin instead of just plain being neurotic or annoying.
I bet there's one question still darting through most of your minds. I bet that question amounts up to "That's all fine and dandy, but where do the rocket-launching deer come in?"
Well, that's what actually makes this film enjoyable. You see, every time a bit of dialogue from the story is read out loud, we switch to the actual film-adaptation of the story, with Sam Rockwell (Who does another great job as space-adventurer as HH2TG's Zaphod) as Bronco. And I'm not talking about the film Lonnie is making, no, it's an actual sidestep where actual actors play the actual story. And it's fantastic! It's so badly written and over the top that it's hilarious, but it's not so badly written and over the top that it becomes ridiculous. Well, it's ridiculous, but in a good way. The sheer wonkyness of the monsters, surroundings and everything else in this version of Yeast Lords reminded me a lot of old sci-fi flicks like Barbarella, or maybe the early Star Trek films.
Putting in these bits, and the bits where it's an adaptation of Chevalier's adaptation (Stay with me here), in which Bronco is named Brutus and flamboyantly gay, was a brilliant move, because I don't think the film would've survived on awkwardness (That word still takes me a couple of seconds to type) alone.
In the end I can honestly say that I did enjoy the film, but having to sit through all the awkwardness was like being prodded gently in the back of your head every ten seconds. It's not really that annoying, and you can live with it, but it'd be better if it hadn't been there all the time.
The story does wrap itself up quite nicely though, and I don't think many people would be disappointed after seeing this flick.
As I said somewhere up there, if you're a fan of films like Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums, you can probably appreciate Gentlemen Broncos. If you're expecting lot's of slapstick humour and flying deer with rockets strapped to their sides (Which is what I was expecting), you'll be slightly disappointed, but you'll still have seen a decent film.