There have been plenty of sci-fi related films to go around of late. We have seen The Road, Pandorum, District 9, and of course, the summer’s $400mm smash hit Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But now, Jared and Jerusha Hess, the writing team behind the indie hit Napoleon Dynamite, bring us a different kind of sci-fi. The literary kind (that still plays itself out on screen in goofy-as-heck fashion). Reindeer that shoot guns out of their eyes (and other orifices)? Check. One-eyed, lo-fi, cyclops aliens? Check. Sam Rockwell as both a transvestite and tough guy hero to rival his dual role in another sci-fi film Moon? Umm, check? Gentlemen Broncos is a wacky type of work.
The new movie stars Jermaine Clement (TV’s “Flight of the Conchords”) as Ronald Chevalier, a flamboyant science fiction/fantasy novelist of some repute and notoriety. Unfortunately, he needs a new book as his publisher is unsatisfied with his unsaleable latest effort and is threatening to drop him. When a down on his luck Chevalier heads to a “Cletus Fest,” a writers summit where he aims to teach teenage fan-geeks his celebrity methods of fantastical scribe, a young man named Benjamin (Snow Angels‘ Michael Angarano) shows up, hoping to tap into the brain of his fave author. All the while, Stifler’s mom from American Pie, Jennifer Coolidge’s Judith, has son Ben in the most ridiculous get-ups imaginable. It’s no wonder dude has no friends. Cletus Fest represents a chance for Ben to submit his “Yeast Lords” story for the grand prize, a 1,000 copy publishing deal across bookstores nationwide. You see where this is going. Chevalier steals Ben’s story for his own work in an effort to regain the fame he seeks.
That simple premise alone though, does not a film make. Ben needs friends, or so his mom thinks, so she hires a Guardian Angel to look after/befriend him. That angel is caught up in a low-budget filming of Ben’s “Yeast Lords” work that he sells to a director who likely has no intention of paying him for his work. The film premieres to disastrous results, even while the films “stars” and director are gaining a small level of celebrity. The low budget movie is so cheesy though (it’s the director’s 84th film) that it’s kinda fun, but Ben is always the one on the outside looking in. No recognition for his efforts other than being humiliated in public for his attempt at acting which results in one of many upchuck scenes in the film, though this will likely be the most memorable.
While Angarano is able, Clement is the film’s greatest strength, lisping his way through vignettes with the speech redundancy of a pair of shoes and a constant sight gag in a golden bluetooth earpiece. An amusing scene where he adds suffixes to character names for his students registers high marks. “You can add ‘anous’ to any name to improve it,” he muses. Illustrations for would-be book covers, including one where women with “mammary cups that shoot laser rain,” are depicted. “Broncos” has some nice moments in the middle of the bizarre madness.
Throughout, the film cuts back and forth between the sci-fi work of “Lords” being narrated, and it’s rework “Brutus and Balzaak,” with Rockwell playing the lead character. We know what reality is though, as side plots abound as the film progresses. One particular sub-plot that never fully fleshes itself out in the form of a possible love story aside (was he taken advantage of?), “Broncos” keeps things on a zig-zag path that world-famous Lombard street in San Francisco would be proud of; it’s a little weird getting there, but you still reach your destination.
It’s similar in tone, if not scope, to “Dynamite.” Bizarre 70′s retro meets modern day (though in a lot of ways, you’d never know it), as everything is stuck in a time capsule. Wood paneled interior to homes. Night gown designs by aspiring designer Judith that cross futuristic with extreme conservatism. It’s like The Never Ending Story meets Lord of the Rings, all done in the oddest way possible. This is by no means, my kind of story, but it deserves credit for quirk and originality, and undoubtedly for many (myself included), some dumb, stupid laughs at it’s own expense. Hard to fault it too much for giving such a genuine effort. This won’t hold the appeal of the Hess duo’s earlier hit, but it should satisfy their fans just the same.