Balls of Confusion

Too much juvenile humor ruins Gentlemen Broncos

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Gentlemen Broncos ** Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque At 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 and 8:45 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31

After the unlikely stratospheric success of 2004's Napoleon Dynamite, director Jared Hess hit the mat hard with wrestling spoof Nacho Libre in 2006. Gentlemen Broncos, his latest uneven offering (co-written, like the other two films, with wife Jerusha), is evidence that Hess may have peaked at 30. The film is a protracted and only intermittently funny testicle joke, with enough flavor for fans to savor and enough tasteless gristle for critics to choke on.

In a dumpy western town, a milquetoast teen named Benji Purvis (Michael Angarano) scribbles a notebook tome called Yeast Lords, an overheated Freudian adolescent fantasia about hyper-macho killer stags and scarf-wearing Cyclops warriors who have stolen his gonads.

It earns him a trip to a writer's workshop, where he falls for temptress Tabatha (Halley Feiffer), whose ruby-cheeked wholesomeness hides something faintly dirty. Benji also meets his idol, Ronald Chevalier (The Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement), a pretentious sci-fi novelist. Clement's a blast, in puffy 1980s leather and turquoise; his pompous, Cambridge-schooled parlance makes him sound like the love child of Michael York and James Mason. His scenes at the writer's retreat are a high point, tweaking the nerdy world of fantasy novels, including a hilarious debate about the protocols of naming a troll. Facing writer's bock, Chevalier steals Benji's Yeast Lords and bastardizes it into a bestseller. At the same time, Benji sells the movie rights to a zero-budget producer, and a collision course is set.

We see each author's visions of the story in segments starring Sam Rockwell as Bronco — first as a macho mountain-man riding a flying, missile-launching buck, and then as an albino in a pink cape spewing vomit like a cannon. On paper it sounds brilliant, but on the screen it often falls flat — the deadpan gets deadly and the laughs are drowned in grossness or arbitrary weirdness.

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