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The Hess’s films just seem unable to commit to deeper than surface details. In Gentlemen Broncos, though, they get those dead right. Like all their films to date their credits sequence is perfectly brilliant. Using paperback dime novels looks great and sets the proper tone for the film. The art direction of the film keeps the tenor throughout as well, with everything giving off a second hand vibe. The whole movie looks like it could have been found in a used bookstore. It looks musty, if that’s even possible.

The characters certainly needed some more of this kind of attention to detail. I never really felt like I knew any of them in the end, never had a clear sense of what they wanted or were trying to accomplish. Benjamin, the lead protagonist is just sort of any kid who writes genre fiction. The biggest failure of his character is the lack of vocabulary in his writing. Words like “crap” pop up all too frequently in a cheap attempt at humor. Writers, especially writers trying to give genre fiction respectability, don’t use that kind of phrasing when they have eight syllable words in their pockets. The villain, Ronald Chevalier, pulls the shtick off much better. His washed up hack, all bluff and affectation, works as a foil for the naïve and unaffected Benjamin. I like Jennifer Coolidge in her role as Benjamin’s mother, though her character is given far too much screen time.

That’s representative of another of the film’s problems; too many side plots are started for a 90 minute film. Too much time is devoted to Coolidge’s burgeoning gown designer career, then Benjamin’s story is terribly filmed by fellow-fantasy writer’s camp goers Lonnie and Tabatha, AND the film intersperses moments from Benjamin’s book featuring Sam Rockwell as the titular Bronco. While a few of these serve the story, it features far too many for its own benefit. Too many threads dangle in the end and too few tie up satisfactorily.

I mentioned a cheap attempt at humor already but some of the scatological stabs in the film are far too juvenile. A scene revolving around a first kiss and vomit is positively revolting. It turned my stomach. It’s a scene you might expect from John Waters but never did I imagine it playing in a Jared Hess movie. A cannon extends from a reindeer’s backside in another move that succeeds only in dragging the film down. It’s not even funny when it happens.

A number of scenes feel like they were written assuming that they would be funny without ever postulating as to why. I got the sense that the writers decided to point a camera at something, in this case genre writers of little fame, with the assumption that it would just be funny, without thinking about why it would be. And they are half right in their deduction. There are tons of jokes to be made about their subject. They just didn’t make any of them. They got the surface correct but never looked into the heart of their topic. I never felt any love of sci-fi/fantasy books from the creators and that makes a huge difference in the film’s quality. You can pick apart a thing you don’t love but you can’t show really why it’s funny without some deeper affection for it. And that heart is what’s chiefly missing from Gentlemen Broncos. 2 stars

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2 Comments

  1. Just tries to be quirky, and odd while forgetting ever to be funny. It’s a bummer that the cast tries their hardest, because they are just let down by this dumb script.

    • Yes, it was a disappointing handling of some really ripe material. Thanks for reading.


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