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  Napoleon Dynamite Revenge Of The Nerds
Year: 2004
Director: Jared Hess
Stars: Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino, Efren Ramirez, Diedrich Bader, Sandy Martin, Haylie Duff, Trevor Snarr, Shondrella Avery, Bracken Johnson, Carmen Brady, Ellen Dubin
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is an eccentric high school teenager in Idaho with a host of minor obsessions and quirks. Most of the time the only attention he gets from his peers is a headlock from the school bullies, but he fills his time with swingball, action figures, drawing (especially ligers - a cross between a lion and a tiger) and other pursuits. Today he doesn't feel well, so asks to use the phone at the office, but only his brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) answers as his grandma (Sandy Martin), who they both live with, is vacationing for a couple of days. As nobody will come and fetch him, he makes do with striking up a friendship with new boy Pedro (Efren Ramirez) - a fateful meeting.

At first sight Napoleon Dynamite doesn't appear to be about anything very much, simply poking gentle fun at its collection of banal but quirky characters and their endeavours towards empowerment. Scripted by the director Jared Hess and his wife Jerusha Hess, it boasts a terrific title sequence whose attention to detail mirrors the drama you see unfold over the next eighty minutes or so. As played by Heder, Napoleon (we never find out if that's his real name or one he's adopted) is tall, gawky and awkward, with an affected, long suffering way of speaking, but he makes for a strangely compelling hero as we follow him through his daily life, looking for friendship - and romance, even if he can't admit it to himself.

The romance arrives on his doorstep, although he doesn't realise it initially, in the shape of fellow teenager Deb (Tina Majorino). Kip - every bit the social inadequate that Napoleon is - has a girlfriend, if someone he communicates with on the internet for two hours a day counts, but you get the impression Napoleon has never known love, despite his idle boasts. He's quite the fantasist if his tales of hunting wolverines on holiday aren't to be believed. Deb rings the doorbell and asks him if he wants to look like this (she holds out a photo of a glamour model apparently taken from a magazine), but Napoleon points out, quite rightly, that "this" is a picture of a girl. Deb offers some handmade keychains, then flees in embarrassment, leaving her wares behind.

However, Napoleon has other things to worry about right now as Grandma has taken a tumble off her quad bike on her holiday, and sends Uncle Rico (John Gries) to take care of her grandsons while she's recuperating, even though they're capable of looking after themselves. Uncle Rico isn't much liked by Napoleon, who sees through his empty boasts, but he's every bit the dreamer that his nephew is, wishing he could go back in time to 1982 and asking Kip to investigate the possibilities of time travel on the internet. The film certainly piles on the idiosyncrasies, and almost every character has their own peculiarities which sends you to wonder whether they're being sneered at by the smarter film makers.

I suppose they could have gone the eighties teen comedy route and had Napoleon the subject of gross out gags and lewd humour, but the jokes are kept surprisingly tame and deadpan. There are, commendably, no crass pointers to the laughs, and as such they have a danger of passing by unacknowledged, or merely eliciting a chuckle. A plotline about Napoleon and Pedro looking for a girl to ask to the school dance eventually emerges, as does one about Pedro's attempts to be elected school president, and these prompt both a moment of sentiment (thanks to a Cyndi Lauper song) and a moment of triumph for Napoleon, in spite of the efforts of everyone around him to do him down, deliberately or otherwise. A simple message about there being a partner for everyone rounds off a mild but engaging story, but it's essentially a one joke movie, and a slightly patronising one at that. Music by John Swihart.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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