LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - New Zealand comedian Jemaine Clement is best known as one-half of musical duo Flight of the Conchords, but in the movie “Gentlemen Broncos” he takes wing on his own playing an ego-driven science fiction author.
Clement has already made his mark in television and music, earning an Emmy nomination this year for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for his role in cable network HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords,” which is based on his Grammy winning band.
But Clement’s success in the show about two New Zealand musicians who move to New York to start a music career has been shared with Conchords bandmate Bret McKenzie.
Setting out on his own, Clement hopes to broaden his appeal to U.S. audiences with his role in film comedy “Gentlemen Broncos,” from “Napoleon Dynamite” writer and director Jared Hess. The movie opened in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and expands to major cities such as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco in the coming few weeks.
On two-year-old “Flight of the Conchords,” Clement dreams up his own funny songs and scripts with McKenzie, but the actor told Reuters he enjoys letting someone else do the writing.
“Things like ‘Gentlemen Broncos’ are even more fun, because someone’s already thought of all that stuff, and I just slip into it and try to realize their idea,” he said
Clement plays sci-fi author Ronald Chevalier, a shady egomaniac with a distinctive voice that stands out for being authoritative yet affected, deep yet undulating and, in short, like something from outer space -- with a British accent.
Clement said he modeled the voice on actor Michael York from the 1976 sci-fi movie “Logan’s Run,” and on one of his university professors, who also wrote science fiction.
“He would talk about these really crazy ideas in this amazing voice that he had,” Clement said.
“His voice would be so serious when he’d talk about things, like having make believe swords or, ‘I want you to take the newspapers and create any suit (of clothing) you like,'” Clement said, in the voice of his character Chevalier.
Set in rural Utah, “Gentlemen Broncos” follows a teenage sci-fi writer named Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano), who attends a writing workshop where Chevalier is the featured star, and comes away feeling disenchanted with the author.
It’s not long before Benjamin’s own writing puts him on a collision course with Chevalier, as the teen learns success in sci-fi involves more than just putting pen to paper.
“Gentlemen Broncos” is in many ways similar to Hess’ 2004 surprise indie hit “Napoleon Dynamite,” which made $46 million at worldwide box offices on a budget of $400,000.
Both movies are set in quirky rural towns, and both star teenage misfits who achieve a breakthrough in their lives.
But while “Napoleon Dynamite” proved to be a critics’ darling, reviewers are far less enthusiastic about “Gentlemen Broncos.” The movie, which made only $10,000 over the weekend playing in two theaters, earned a meager 12 percent favorable rating from review aggregator website RottenTomatoes.com.
In Entertainment Weekly, reviewer Lisa Schwarzbaum said Hess’ films claim to “celebrate the amusing qualities of misshapen people,” but this time “the act bombs.”
One positive review came from New York magazine, which said Clement is the best part of the movie. “Even if you love him on ‘Flight of the Conchords,’ you’ll be unprepared for his genius -- and charisma,” reviewer David Edelstein wrote.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte