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IN SHORT: The funniest, sex and drug-free high school comedy we've ever seen. That's compliment. A big one. [Rated PG for thematic elements and language. 86 minutes]
We stopped paying attention to the various film festivals years ago. Our reasons, stated here and there over the last ten years were simple: we had enough of pretentious writing and/or directing and/or overacting and the overwhelming ego of directorial superiority that seemed to go along with making the cut as a Festival Selection. Besides, the really good movies that emerged from any Festival -- and we don't include the films that managed to land a studio distribution deal before show time -- were few and far between.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it's Few and Far Between Time.
With the exception of gone in a flash cameo by Drew Carrey co-star Diedrich Bader there's not a name attached to Napoleon Dynamite in any capacity that would make the little voice in your head start scratching itself thinking "there's something about this film that makes me want to see it..." That is the reason critics like the cranky old gnome who slaves over these words exist. We are the pigs rooting out the truffles; the hounds tracking down wanted quarry; the writers saddled with a need to write with too many metaphors because we haven't come up with any new way to rave or dis a film in years.
So, let's get to the point. Technically, Napoleon Dynamite has all the look of a collegiate production. It's adequate, at best. In keeping with that, there is no one in the cast familiar enough to the general public that you'd lay down your money for a look see. What Napoleon Dynamite should have going for it, and we're going to help start the ball rolling here and now, is that wonderful thing that marketers dream of called "word of mouth." Napoleon Dynamite is a film set in an average high school that ignores all the done to death conventions of the "high school genre" movie. The kids we meet in this story aren't obsessed with getting their first roll in the hay. They just want a date to the school dance -- all the more difficult when the clique of kidlets at the center of the story are the social outcasts of the Class of 2004.
Begin with our "hero," Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder). Though the film falls way short on getting certain background details into its subtext, it's safe to assume from context that Napoleon is a junior at Preston (Idaho) High School. His parents aren't on the scene for reasons that are unclear. Grandmother Dynamite (Sandy Martin) has been watching over Napoleon and his 32 year old unemployed, Internet chat room surfing brother Kip (Aaron Ruell). Napoleon hasn't managed to corral a lot of friends during his run in the local school system, but he's more than eager (in a gentle 'I don't have anything else to do' kind of way) to befriend the new kid from Mexico Pedro (Efren Ramirez) and neighbor Deb (Tina Majorino), who's trying to raise money for college by selling key chains door to door.
When Grandma temporarily vacates the scene due to a dune buggy accident -- don't ask -- Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) leaves his van and moves in to the Dynamite house, where his presence isn't exactly needed. As far as Rico is concerned, the phones are free and there's plenty of steak in the freezer so life is good while he figures out the next get rich quick scheme. Those schemes will eventually pull Kip into his circle -- Kip's Internet girlfriend LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery) is on her way from Detroit and the stud must be able to represent, dontcha know...
Most of Napoleon's life would be pretty grim by most other standards. He gets beat on by the jocks, takes martial arts instruction from dojo master Rex (Diedrich Bader) and has a set of "num-chucks" stashed in his locker. Most of the time, though, he's doodling pictures of fantastical creatures -- a lion/tiger crossbreed he calls "liger" -- and damsel in distress scenes. In short, Napoleon is a typical geek teen. Napoleon is more concerned about two other things. First, how to get a date for the dance, since his obvious "target" will be snatched out from beneath him. Second, how to manage Pedro's run for School President against the most popular girl in the school, Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff).
That's all you need to know, story-wise. The strength of Napoleon Dynamite is in its cast and script. We can say it until we're blue in the face, and we probably are, Napoleon Dynamite is one of the funniest films of the year. It certainly is the funniest with a no-name cast and that being written, props go out to all the onscreen folks, who do a very good job.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Napoleon Dynamite, he would have paid . . .
Find it. Pay for it. Laugh out loud.
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