Badly homemade popcorn balls figure in ? Gentlemen Broncos. So do badly homemade garments and, especially, badly homemade science fiction written by Benjamin (Michael Angarano), a fantasy-obsessed, home-schooled Utah teen who titles his proudest manuscript Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years. Yet even as filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess wallow in the comedic possibilities of kitsch, the husband-and-wife duo dare their audience to pass judgment on the worth of those balls, those clothes, and those really bad stories. As they did in Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, the Hesses claim to celebrate the amusing qualities of misshapen people and their misshapen dreams, insisting that amateurism and bad taste (both in filmmaking and in life) are intentional artistic choices. The audience may have bought the act in Napoleon Dynamite. But this time, the act bombs.
The one saving grace of such a relentlessly unappealing movie may be that the emperor’s-new-clothes moment has arrived: Bad taste is sometimes just a vice, and amateurism in filmmaking is no virtue. In Broncos, Benjamin is sent to a teen writers’ camp by his warmhearted but tasteless mother (Jennifer Coolidge — ?even she looks depressed by the role). And there his manuscript winds up in the hands of competing plagiarists. A pompous, formerly best-selling fantasy novelist (Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) steals the plot for his own book, while blithely untalented young artistes (Halley Feiffer and Nacho Libre’s rubbery Hector Jimenez) cannibalize Yeast Lords as a movie. Gentlemen Broncos then degenerates into an aggressively crappy dramatization of Benjamin’s original, dorky tale with Sam Rockwell as the hero. It’s hard to distinguish between the awfulness of the character and the crudeness of the performance. So why bother? D-