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Napoleon Dynamite
Posted to Movies at 10:46 AM on May 31, 2005

2004. Fox Searchlight Pictures. Directed by Jared Hess. Starring Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, and Efren Ramirez.

Napoleon Dynamite is the kind of movie that hipster teenyboppers and snotty film geeks cream themselves over. They sing its praises, flinging around words like "ironic" and "postmodern". If confronted with someone who is less enthusiastic about the film, they'll roll their eyes and proclaim that the person doesn't "get it".

So on principle, I dislike this movie.

But dammit if I didn't laugh out loud. Several times. It's just so dumb that it's funny. I'm sitting, watching the movie, trying to be all indignant at its pretension, and then Napoleon (Jon Heder) gets into a humorous slapfight with his brother and suddenly, it's the funniest thing I've seen all week.

Napoleon is a skinny geeky kid who lives in Idaho. Actually, "geeky" is too kind a description of Napoleon. Napoleon is a freak. He is completely lacking in social skills. He is borderline hateful. Only his friendship with new student Pedro (Efren Ramirez) redeems him slightly. Seriously, about fifteen minutes into the movie, I wanted to shove his Trapper Keeper up his nose. But then I noticed that none of the characters in the film are very likeable; that's the point. You're not watching for the characters; you're watching for what the characters are doing to each other. The main character is actually the oddball sense of humor. It's slapstick with corny one-liners and a few sight gags thrown in for good measure.

Still, screenwriters Jared and Jerusha Hess seem to be trying so, soooo hard to make you see how clever they are. From the "retro" soundtrack to the cheesetastic 70's set design, the whole thing just screams "look how hip I am!". The pouty, clueless 20-somethings who carry around Scooby-Doo lunchboxes will adore this movie, because it's seemingly written for them. It embraces 80's music and pop culture in that sarcastic it's-so-bad-it's-cute kind of way that they love so much.

The artsy-fartsy pretension very nearly sinks this movie. It sort of somehow makes the funny parts almost unfunny. Almost. There are still more than a few things to like about it. Jon Gries is a hoot as Napoleon's uncle Rico.


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