— by Larry Carroll
BEVERLY HILLS, California — Jack Black is a comedian with impeccable timing, a prolific singer/songwriter and a Hollywood superstar capable of anchoring a thriller like "King Kong" as surely as he can unleash his lunacy in a flick like "School of Rock."
Still, he insists, there's more work to be done.
"Word on the street is I wanna kick Steven Seagal's ass," Black proclaimed this week, confirming his desire to put the smack-down on the over-baked action hero. "Here's the thing, Steve: You may come at me with your ponytail and your deep, dark stare, but what are you gonna do about the Anaconda Squeeze?
"Nothing!" Black shrieked, tensing his muscles. "I've got that move down!"
Chances are, the famously unruffled "Under Siege" star isn't exactly shaking in his kimono. But if Seagal should happen to stumble into a screening of "Nacho Libre" and get a glimpse of Black's finishing move, perhaps he'd be impressed by the comic's newfound Mexican-wrestling skills.
Jared Hess, the "Nacho" filmmaker who injected the flick with a quirky tone similar to his breakthrough, "Napoleon Dynamite," insisted that his leading man possess imposing physical prowess. "All the wrestlers in the film are real Mexican wrestlers," he marveled. "We had a really amazing stunt coordinator, Nick Powell, who choreographed all the fights. ... Jack rehearsed and did a ton of training for the film, and he could do just about everything that they threw at him."
As a result, the offbeat comedy — about a Mexican monk's desire to become a masked macho man — owes everything to the 5-foot-7, flab-filled frame that Black employs to soar through the air, body-slam opponents and unleash a finishing move that could make Hulk Hogan scream uncle.
"You've gotta block it," Black shouted, jumping up in his chair to demonstrate a defensive move with one hand shielding the face and another protecting the vicinity of the crotch. "I've got a lot of different ways to kill you. I can come at you with the Anaconda Squeeze, in which I run at you at top speed and jump on you, and then squeeze with my arms and legs. That'll usually take care of business.
"Then there's Wind of the Lion," Black added, settling back down like a kid whose Fun Dip high has worn off. "But I don't really want to go into that one."
"Jack was perfect for the role of Nacho," Hess said of Black. "He's a very husky boy."
The film features all kinds of questionable activities, both in the ring (Nacho pulls an opponent's underwear up over his head) and out (Nacho jogs in slow motion in tight-fitting sweatpants, leaving little to the imagination); but somehow, the wrestling flick saved its greatest surprise for the ratings board.
"We got a PG," grinned Hess, clearly as shocked as anybody else. "It's a PG, and I was surprised just because of some of the wrestling sequences. Also, the humor in the movie definitely comes from a different place."
That "different place" would be the typewriters of Hess and his wife, Jerusha, devout Mormons happy to blaze a unique path paved with two choices no sensible Hollywood power player would ever make: they live in Utah, and avoid all cursing and sex scenes. For "Nacho," their formula was sweetened even more by Mike White, writer of the equally endearing and demented 2000 film "Chuck & Buck."
"Lucha Libre [wrestling] is something I've been a big fan of for a long time," Hess said of his follow-up to "Dynamite," a film that similarly featured a rough-around-the-edges character redeemed by a delicately balanced dash of childish naiveté. "We actually stayed pretty close to the script. Just about everything was written ahead of time, but definitely there were times in production where somebody would have an idea that just makes it better."
That somebody was usually Black, a far more experienced actor than former Hess leading man Jon Heder, and one whose improv skills have been cultivated through more than a decade of films, television shows and Tenacious D musical performances (see "Rewind: An Open Love Letter To Jack Black's Career").
"It's a powerful tune," Black said of "Encarnación," a scene-stealing, Tenacious-like power ballad Nacho composes using the name of the nun he longs to lie down beside. "It's a powerful jam of love — forbidden love."
"That was something that we actually worked pretty hard on beforehand," Hess confessed. "But the execution definitely makes it feel like a spontaneous song that he came up with in the moment. That's just something amazing, actually, that Jack does very well."
"I was just jamming it out with Jared," Black explained. "We were talking about [making] a song that we wanted to be like a 1980s heavy-metal ballad, like heavy-metal cheese. So we listened to a lot of that, and then we came up with ... well, it's not heavy metal at all. What we ended up with is more of a Disney thing, with sort of a strange ...
"I don't know how to explain it," Black added, at a rare loss for words. "But I'm happy with it. It's funny."
The same could be said for "Nacho," a movie that's difficult to describe, but is ultimately funny enough to be happy with. As a result, Black seems destined to kick some ass at the box office this week, which is a good thing since even he'll admit that there's only so much muscle he can throw around Hollywood.
"In terms of ass-kicking," he pondered, placing himself in the movie-star food chain, "I guess I'm between Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
"Yeah, I'm somewhere in between there," he concluded. "Van Damage could probably take me down with that split-kick. I could give him some trouble with my kick-punch, though, simultaneously," Black considered, arching an eyebrow. "It is hard to block."