Napoleon Dynamite

on June 11, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
If Wes Anderson had directed "Dumb and Dumberer," it would have been a lot like "Napoleon Dynamite."

Named after an old Italian man writer/director Jared Hess met on the streets of Chicago, the pic is as random and absurd as its genesis. Set and shot in Hess' rural hometown of Preston, Idaho, it follows its titular misfit (Jon Heder)--a tall, gawky lout with a tight red 'fro and sweet silver moon boots--as he navigates the requisite teen rites of passage: school dances and class presidential elections. Meanwhile, Napoleon is largely left to his own devices as his 32-year-old brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) spends his days looking for romance in Internet chatrooms, his quad-running grandmother (Sandy Martin) breaks her coccyx, and his Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) constantly reminisces about his "glory" days as a football player while going door-to-door selling herbal breast enhancers and in general ruining Napoleon's life.

When his best friend-by-default Pedro (Efren Ramirez) decides to oppose the stuck-up Summer Wheatly (Hilary Duff's sister Haylie) in the student elections because he's the only guy at school with a mustache, the boys draw upon their knowledge of piƱatas, cows and a surprise special talent to triumph in the name of all social outcasts everywhere.

The appeal of "Napoleon Dynamite's" humor will admittedly likely fall along generational lines. Hess' script, co-written with his wife Jerusha, is compulsively quotable: As a pickup line, Napoleon says, "I see you're drinking one percent. Is that because you think you're fat?" And Uncle Rico boasts, "How much you want to bet I can throw a football over them mountains?" And there are countless indelibly absurd images, edited with a keen eye and ear for comic timing: Napoleon slinging hot dish at his grandmother's pet llama Tina; Napoleon towing Rollerblader Kip into town on his bike; Napoleon sprinting down a dusty country road in a suit and tie so that he won't be late to pick up his date for the dance.

Moreover, Heder's droopy-eyed, slack-jawed delivery is a hoot. Constantly scowling and perpetually bitching, he delivers every line in a shout. Both as written and as acted, every single character in "Napoleon Dynamite"--from Napoleon's love interest Deb (Tina Majorino), who sells handicrafts door-to-door, takes Glamour Shots photos and pulls all of her hair into a ponytail on one side, to LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery), Kip's online girlfriend who transforms him into a playah--is richly characterized and distinctly drawn. And, even as the ridiculousness escalates, they each show a lot of heart. Starring Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino, Haylie Duff and Diedrich Bader. Directed by Jared Hess. Written by Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess. Produced by Jeremy Coon, Sean Covel and Chris Wyatt. A Fox Searchlight release. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 86 min

Tags: Starring Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino, Haylie Duff, Diedrich Bader, Directed by Jared Hess. Written by Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess, Produced by Jeremy Coon, Sean Covel, Chris Wyatt, Fox, Comedy

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