The premise is sound and lively: Benjamin (Michael Angarano) is a meek, put-upon nerdboy from one of director Jared Hess’ (Napoleon Dynamite) impressively bleak whitebread purgatories.
Penning a ludicrous but gripping novella about a prancing space cowboy, Benjamin submits it to a writing contest at sci-fi boot camp. It’s summarily poached by his preening geek-lit hero, sci-fantasy novelist Chevalier (Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement), who publishes the book, makes a mint and rides his ill-begotten gravy-train for all its worth, leaving the real author to mount an unlikely revenge scheme.
Classic underdog vs smug establishment stuff, you might think. But it’s all played out in puke-slathered anti-comedy sketches better suited to no-budget YouTube videos than a multimillion-dollar film.
Worse still, Ben’s novel comes to life via cartoony segments featuring a full-tilt Sam Rockwell as the titular Bronco, an intergalactic adventurer/buffoon in an ugly wig and too-tight lycra who serves as Ben’s confused alter-ego, punching out rubbery monsters and charming space-bimbos as his creator hobbles through his sad teenage drama.
Hess’ films will always be compared to his Dynamite debut. While Broncos shares the same knowingly kitschy atmosphere, it lacks that film’s quotability and indelible characters. This aggressively psychedelic mess of a movie does have its (minor) charms, though.
Ben’s fledgling romance with patient friend Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) is fitfully sweet, while his involvement in a zero-budget adaptation of his story, helmed by whackedout, would-be auteur Lonnie Donahoe (Héctor Jiminéz) has a John Waters-y verve.
Sadly, the good bits are buried under merciless gross-out gags and humiliation-porn.
After the hit-and-miss Nacho Libre, hopes that Hess would return to Napoleonic form are soon dashed by a gaudy folly that nurtures quirk to an obsessive, overbearing degree.