The offbeat Napoleon Dynamite abounds in silliness, situated in the small Western town of Preston, Idaho. In some ways it feels like a cross between Dumb and Dumberer and Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, but the attention to details by director Jared Hess and the 26-year-old actor who starred in his acclaimed short film Peluca, Jon Heder make it quite likeable.
On the surface this looks like another high school comedy, yet Hess gives his hometown a certain affection through this misfit. Heder formulates a distinctive character by adopting a tight red ‘fro and silver moon boots. The gawky kid, in Hess’ and Jerusha Hess’ screenplay, will take part in school dances and class presidential elections. And there will be more than a few weirdly funny images and some keen one-liners.
Around Napoleon is his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) obsessed with romance while on-line in chat-rooms. His quad-running grandmother (Sandy Martin) fractures her coccyx, and Uncle Rico (John Gries) is stuck in the glory days of the early 80's as a footballer. Rico kind of serves as a nuisance for Napoleon while selling herbal breast enhancers door-to-door.
The school stuff includes the new kid in town who becomes his friend-by-default, Pedro, played with quiet confidence by a taciturn Efren Ramirez. Hess shows a sincerity for social detachment in Napoleon’s plan to help Pedro (the only guy in the school with a mustache) beat the bragging Summer Wheatly (Haylie Duff, Hilary’s older sister). It concerns a unique talent, and a little insight into cows and pinatas.
Of course, Napoleon Dynamite leads up the dust country road to the big dance after the droopy-eyed, slack-jawed kid plays tetherball, dodges steak, and has karate class at the Rex Kwon-Do Self Defense school. He’ll tow a roller-blading Kip on his bike and will throw something hot at Tina, grandma’s pet llama.
Helping to mitigate the likes of an often scowling, shouting Napoleon is love interest Deb (Tina Majorino, - Waterworld) who sells homemade crafts like boondoggle key chains and takes “glamour shots” of Uncle Rico. She wears her hair with a ponytail on one side. And Shondrella Avery is LaFawnduh, Kis’s on-line girlfriend and a big catalyst in his personal life.
Not much really happens in Napoleon Dynamite, but Hess encapsulates a low-key environment with such a frenetic bottom-dweller in creating his own private Idaho. It’s more than a little freaky, but done with heart.
Frank Chris Tony Jim Howard Jennifer Kathleen Avg. Napoleon Dynamite C- B B-