Napoleon Dynamite

Here's the thing about Napoleon Dynamite - he's really annoying. Every time some kicks him, slaps him, or throws him into a locker, or a hot girl ignores him, it's funny. And it is all at his expense. Nobody is laughing with Napoleon (Jon Heder), everybody is laughing at him. At that is the main problem with Jared Hess' Napoleon Dynamite, which, for some strange reason was one of the hits of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Napoleon Dynamite is about a really big nerd and all the weird people around him. It is a strange slice of life in middle-of-nowhere, Idaho, but other than that, it is a rehashing of old stereotypes without any new take on them.

Napoleon is a nerd because he has big glasses, wears ugly clothes, has a big fro, likes tetherball, draws pictures of ligers (part lion, part tigers), keeps extra tater tots in his pocket for a snack later, walks around with is mouth open, and has no social skills. That is most of the film. The joke gets old, and Napoleon is probably the least interesting character in the entire film. He lives with his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), who spends all day chatting on-line with LaFawnduh, and their Uncle Rico (Jon Gries, The Rundown, Northfork), who is trying to make a quick buck and still living in the past. This is probably the most interesting and bizarre element about Napoleon Dynamite. It takes place in the present. Kip is on the internet, and Rico has a cell phone, but otherwise, everything, the furniture, cars, clothes, hairstyles, everything, looks straight out of 1982. Nobody seems to notice, and Rico's girlfriend even dumped him for living in the past.

Deb (Tina Majorino, Santa Fe, New York Crossing), a shy, withdrawn girl has a secret crush on Napoleon after he shows some compassion, and Napoleon is hanging out more with Pedro (Efren Ramirez, Rave, Race), a Mexican immigrant, and by far the funniest person in the film. Ramirez carries about him a constantly stoned-type look, and seems to speak and move as little as possible. Yet, he wants to take the cutest girl at school to the prom and run for school President. Napoleon works his way into this bizarre dynamic, using his nerdy abilities to help his friend win and to try to make awkward moves towards Deb. It's a weird world populated with long silences and strange conversation.

Director Hess, who co-wrote the film with his wife Jerusha, expanded Napoleon Dynamite from his short film Peluca. Even at less than ninety minutes, it strains for some plot and tries to get around this by making fun of Napoleon some more. This isn't a Revenge of the Nerds scenario where Napoleon gets his due, and because of the jokes, it's hard to sympathize with him. The viewer literally wants to slap Napoleon upside the head because he is such a dork. Heder's performance is good, because he makes the character so believable, and the Hess' do give him some pretty strange, and at times witty things to say. But this is not enough to make the film entertaining. On a completely random note, Haylie Duff (I Love Your Work, The Newman Shower) has a small role as the popular girl. Haylie is the younger sister of Hilary, the current pet of Disney. This is Haylie's largest foray into film, and if this is any indication, she is a much better actor than her sister.

Mongoose Rates it: Not That Good.
1 hour, 26 minutes, Rated PG for thematic elements and language.

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