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Napoleon Dynamite

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Napoleon Dynamite

Starring: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez
Director: Jared Hess
Rated: PG
RunTime: 86 Minutes
Release Date: June 2004
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Jonathan Gries, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino, Haylie Duff, Ellen Dubin, Emily Kennard, Sandy Martin, Diedrich Bader, Shondrella Avery

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

You can find ‘em in every school, in no small number of American homes, at the workplace. They're oddballs–introverts for the most part, who don't fit in except with their own circle of like-minded friends. If you're an oddball in New York, you may have no problem. If you're nerdish in Idaho–in the sticks of Idaho at that–you've got as much support as a potato useful for boiling only. "Napoleon Dynamite," a new film written by director Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess, is an amusing romp in and about a high-school in the tiny town of Presto, Idaho, the sort of place that's lily-white, though in one major situation a Mexican-American turns up–where the kids get to the school by a bus that travels along rural routes. As in Alexander Payne's study of a high school in his "Election," a vote for student president informs the plot but only to some extent. However the election here is not transcendent: the picture can be taken as a comedy for its own sake, the sort that, were it a still life, it might appear in a New Yorker cartoon.

The ironically named title character (Jon Heder) cannot be mistaken for anything but a geek. He appears to go out of his way to be dumped upon with his now-unfashionable aviator glasses and a small reddish and curly Afro. In class time he often draws medieval characters and for exercise he fools around with a tetherball, socking it so hard that we're sure he imagines he's doing in one particular jock who in at least one case sees him in the halls and slams him against the locker. Outside of his own family, he's friendly with two people: one a Mexican-American named Pedro (Efren Ramirez) who accentuates his differences with the spud-fed whiteys in the school by sporting a mustache; and with a shy girl, Deb (Tina Majorino), who like some other introverts is skilled as an amateur photographer. While Napoleon's grandmother (Sandy Martin) is off-roading in the Idaho flats, Napoleon is watched over by his salesman cousin, Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), who also watches over the 32-year-old brother of Napoleon, Kip (Aaron Ruell), the latter spending hours each day in an internet chat room.

Hess's outlandishly character-driven story, then, is of off- center people, people who are mocked not only by the folks with whom they come into contact but at times by the writer-director himself. If Michael Moore were to do this as a mock-doc, he might have Pedro, Napoleon, Rico and Kip coming to the school with AK-47's or Uzi's, but this being a comedy, the ostracized get their revenge in more legal ways. The style which Napoleon uses as his friend Pedro's elections campaign manager brings to mind Jason Schwartzman's school play in Wes Anderson' "Rushmore." Ultimately, though, "Napoleon Dynamite" is an original that will find an audience tired of the action-adventure genre or of mindless slapstick comedy.

Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten

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