Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

Comedy Rated PG-13

The question isn’t why was Gentlemen Broncos abruptly pulled from theaters in the fall of 2009. The question is how in the world did the movie even get that far?

It’s not a matter of the film being bad. It is bad, but even worse for the studio, it’s unmarketable. With reverential nods to fantasy novellas and frequent use of barf humor, this falls somewhere between cult item and infantile potty flick. It’s too juvenile for ironic audiences yet too idiosyncratic for the bathroom-humor crowd. Gentlemen Broncos is a movie without a home, hence the yanking from theaters and unheralded dumping on DVD.

Still, this is something to see. In telling the story of an aspiring teen fantasy novelist named Benjamin (Michael Angarano) whose work is stolen by a famous author (Jemaine Clement), married filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess seem to have indulged every whacked-out whim that came into their minds. (The studio was probably hoping for something along the lines of their more accessible curiosities Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, the latter of which made my 2006 top ten list.)

What we get here are gags involving Benjamin’s deluded fashion designer of a mother (Jennifer Coolidge), blow darts covered in feces and a local filmmaker whose productions, including a no-budget adaptation of Benjamin’s book, have the unseemly hint of homemade porn.

All of this is fairly sensible compared to the fantasy sequences reenacting scenes from Benjamin’s novel, which involves some sort of futuristic cave man (Sam Rockwell) who rides militarized reindeer on a quest to retrieve his testicles from an evil madman.

None of this very funny, but it unfolds with a certain car-wreck fascination. Clement, a deadpan delight on HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords,” has a few moments of amusing pomposity as the thieving sci-fi author, while Angarano conveys real adolescent bewilderment as the beleaguered Benjamin.

Yet Benjamin’s awareness of his status as a loser is another way Gentlemen Broncos fails compared to its predecessors. The freaks and geeks of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre didn’t believe they had anything to be ashamed of – they made their oddness a form of rebellion. Benjamin is all too aware of the delirious dysfunction surrounding him, which makes Gentlemen Broncos not only a mess of a movie, but something of a sad one.