Gentlemen Broncos is the brainchild of Jared and Jerusha Hess, the creators of Napoleon Dynamite. Whereas that cult classic was able to capitalize on the quirks of small town Utah weirdness, Gentlemen Broncos fails miserably. The film begins very charming and has some funny moments early on. However, the charm wear off very quickly, and when that happens what your left with is a listless movie that drags to the end. What a complete disappointment. Gentlemen Broncos wastes the talents of Michael Angarano (One Last Thing, Sky High) Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Concords), Jennifer Coolidge, Mike White, and the always entertaining Sam Rockwell.
Angarano stars as Benjamin Purvis, a budding young science fiction writer who lives with his widowed mother (Coolidge). Benjamin attends a writing camp where he meets his idol, Ronald Chevalier (Clement), a pretentious hack whose idea for enhancing stories is to add suffixes “onius” to the end of the name (as in “Haronius” or “Dunphyonius”). Chevalier announces a writing contest for the participants at the camp and Benjamin eagerly submits his novella, “Yeast Wars-The Bronco Years,” a futuristic adventure about a longhaired hero named “Bronco” who saves the world from a Cyclops army and a madman with robot deer fly through the air and shoot lasers out of their asses. Benjamin is only expecting feedback; he never expects Chevalier to steal his story and adapt it into his next bestseller.
While Chevalier goes about his plagiarism, Benjamin returns to life with his mom, who designs atrocious clothing and works at a second rate department store (where Benjamin also works) and his new friendship with a fellow writer, Tabitha (Helley Feiffer). She has read “Yeast Wars,” liked it, and convinces Benjamin to allow her “filmmaker” friend, Lonnie (Hector Jimenez) to make a home-made, low budget movie based on the novella. The naïve and continuously bewilders Benjamin gives them permission.
Throughout the film, passages from the book come to life in scenes purposely shot like a low budget sci-fi flick, like you might find playing on the local channel during a lazy Sunday afternoon. In these sequences, Rockwell takes on the guise of the hero. Bronco in Benjamin’s version, and Brutus when we’re seeing what Chevalier has written. Bronco is one bad ass dude, so tough that he sews his own gonad back on to his body. Brutus, on the other hand, is a screaming queen who is more bitchy than bad ass.
These parts of the movie were more inspired and enjoyable than the rest. Rockwell always seems to invest everything he has an actor into his roles, no matter how outrageous. This film is no exception. If I could have seen an entire movie of “Yeast Wars” starring Rockwell, I may have enjoyed Gentlemen Broncos a whole lot more.
The biggest problem the film has is that it’s too self aware of its quirkiness, especially Coolidge, who seems to be going out of her way to being wacky, trying to hard to garner laughs from the audience. Most of her actions (and improvising) fall flat. Furthermore, Angarano goes through the film like such a sad sack and void of any personality, it’s hard to root for Benjamin. Sure, we feel sorry for Benjamin, but like everything else in the movie, his sad sack, put upon act grows old.
Somewhere between shooting the film and postproduction this movie lost its way. When you watch the deleted scenes and especially the short documentary on the making of the movie, there was a good movie somewhere in the works. However, whether it was studio executives putting their fingers in the mix or woeful editing choices, Gentlemen Broncos crashed and burned like rocket powered deer crashing to earth.