Gentlemen Broncos is one of those movies that would be totally awesome if they cut out the parts that suck. The third feature film from Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess, Broncos is about a 15-year-old aspiring sci-fi writer named Benjamin (Michael Angarano) from the same kind of middle-of-nowhere small town in Utah where Napoleon took place, and where Hess apparently hails from. Benjamin's well-meaning mom sends him to a writer's camp, where he gets to take a class taught by his hero, a prolific fantasy author named Ronald Chevalier (the awesomely ridiculous Jemaine Clement, of Flight of the Conchords fame), who speaks in a James Mason-style British accent and wears a lot of Native American-inspired flare. But when Chevalier comes under pressure from his publisher for his next book idea, the desperate bigwig steals Benjamin's novel -- a very weird story called "Yeast Lords."
"Yeast Lords" is presented in the film as a movie within the movie, with Sam Rockwell playing the protagonist -- a hairy badass named Bronco, who leads a rebellion against something or other by fighting a lot of rocket-armed deer trophies. These scenes are pretty unequivocally hilarious; they're perfectly absurd, and Rockwell sells the insanity like nobody's business. In fact, just about everything in the movie that directly pertains to science fiction is funny. Clement's performance as the God-among-nerds Chevalier is comic gold. His voice alone is hysterical, and all the touches -- like his flamboyant wardrobe, his personally created cover art (like Roger Dean but with more boobs), and his self-important advice about character names (specifically, putting oneself in the mind of a mother troll suckling a ravenous litter) -- are priceless.
The only problem with the film is everything else. When you get Mike White to show up for your movie in a long, permed wig, carrying a snake around his shoulders, and the best you can do is have it poop on him 15 minutes in, you know you're in trouble. There's a lot of vomit, a lot of weirdness that doesn't necessarily make you laugh, and a lot of disjointed plot elements that don't really go anywhere. Hess has always taken flak for approaching his subjects -- namely, rural Utah and its philistine residents -- with clear distain, laughing at the bumpkins who populate the epic, mountainous landscape's ranch houses and strip malls rather than with them. And to be fair, while comedy has become increasingly preoccupied with pointing out the inanities of mundane suburban life over the past decade, Hess' particular brand of funny-because-it's-true is pretty unique. You don't see anybody else lampooning Mormon country in this way (though, in fairness, Hess never actually brings the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into the script in any way, unless you count the creepy casual reference to sex as "bedding down"). But while it was arguably novel in Napoleon Dynamite to point out all the mom jeans and scrunchies that keep this area so amusingly behind the times, it's mostly just icky and depressing in Broncos. The more specific Hess gets -- the upscale lingerie store that sells high-necked grandma nighties, the deluded fools passing off third-rate country crafts as art -- the less appealing the movie feels. And, sadly, that content accounts for more than half of the running time.