Movie dorks area special kind of breed. Perhaps their greatest accomplishment is capturing the hearts of women who would otherwise step all over them like Lou Piniella and first base (for the baseball junkies). Napoleon Dynamite, based on the crowd at last night’s screening, is no exception, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why.
Napoleon Dynamite tells the story of one of the most unfunny and despicable dorks in film history, and injects a few doses of real laughter approximately every twenty minutes (after doing the math). The film plays like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, with all setup and no punchline. The movie doesn’t even have a discernible storyline for its first thirty minutes.
Napoleon (Heder) is an alienated youth who loves his bike, his tater tots, and his friend Pedro (Ramirez). I think that’s about it. He lives with his thirty-two year old brother, Kip (Ruell), an internet chat junkie who believes he has met the love of his life. When Napoleon grandma (Martin) is injured in a sand dune racing accident, Uncle Rico (Gries) moves in and starts selling Tupperware in bulk. All of this while Napoleon is trying to find himself a date to the big dance and Pedro is running for class president.
The fundamental flaw with the film is Napoleon himself, who seems to have two lazy eyes, talks forcefully, and is always wearing snow boots. He never emerges as a likable character, which makes for a very long film. I will give Jon Heder props on the performance, however. He captures the essence of the character completely and is strong throughout, but it’s just not a likeable or quality lead character.
The supporting cast fares better, but they’re stuck in a story that doesn’t really play like a story. It’s just a random collection of shorts that comes together with a “dork makes good” climax. Efren Ramirez is excellent as Pedro, the most unlikely ladies man around. Jon Gries is entertaining as Rico, and Aaron Ruell turns in the most boring performance of the year, and I mean that in a good way. Diedrich Bader is given the funniest role in the film as a buffed up Kung Fu instructor, but is terribly underused. I wonder why he was even in the film at all, but I’m glad he was. But for what? Talented actors stuck in a lame movie.
Director Jared Hess has either established himself as a great Indie circuit director or a Wes Anderson wannabe. I’d say it’s a mix of both, but Hess clearly knows his characters. I’d much rather watch Rushmore than this film, however.
Napoleon Dynamite made quite the splash at Sundance, and has already opened in a limited release throughout the country. Based on what I saw last night, the film already has an incredible cult following. The first three rows of the theater looked like an N’Sync concert full of groupies. This was the second of three advance screenings here in the Columbus area, and a devoted group are going to all three.
But count me out. Napoleon Dynamite is ultimately a waste of talent. There are not enough consistent laughs to recommend it, thus leaving many better films for dorks who want to make good (like Rushmore, as mentioned above). Leave this one for the dogs.
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Length: 86 Minutes
Rating: PG for thematic issues and language.
Theatrical Release: June 11, 2004 (Limited)
Directed by: Jared Hess
Written by: Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess
Cast: Jon Heder, Jon Gies, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez, Diedrich Bader, Tina Majorino