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Napoleon Dynamite /

Rated: PG

Starring: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Diedrich Bader, Haylie Duff, Jon Gries

Directed by: Jared Hess

Produced by: Jeremy Coon, Sean Covel, Chris Wyatt
Written by:
Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures


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Note: The following pertains to an advanced screening of the movie which took place on 5/19/2004.

     I can hardly believe that, twenty minutes into this movie, I was thinking to myself ďThis will never, ever work.Ē The opening of Napoleon Dynamite shows no sign of a pulse; the audience was laughing at the aimless punches it threw at them, while I was rolling my eyes. However, after seeing the movie in full, itís easy to conclude that the abysmal opening act is merely a method of setting up a delightfully enjoyable movie. Itís been two months since I laughed as hard as I did in Napoleon Dynamite, with Marchís The Ladykillers preceding it. This is a pure comedy with heart, which is a rare find in the movie industry these days. It is set to be released this June, by Fox Searchlight Pictures, and I sure hope it finds its audience.

     Teenage Napoleon Dynamite (John Heder) lives with his thirty-year-old brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell), and Grandmother (Sandy Martin) in the small town of Preston, Idaho. Heís not a popular boy, tucking in his shirt, with his curly, red hair bobbing all over the place when he walks. His main interest is drawing pictures of ironic-looking creatures, including the ďligers,Ē tiger-lion crossbreeds, which have ball-and chains for tails. He also claims to fight werewolves and such monsters in Alaska over the summer, when his peers will ask him about his prized activities, just for laughs. As the movie unfolds, Napoleonís eccentric, scheming Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) moves in with him and his brother when their Granny is injured in a freak ATV accident, leading a long chain of events. Napoleon befriends the New Mexican Kid at school (Efren Ramirez), eventually helping him run for class president; his brotherís internet girlfriend LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery) stops by for a visit all the way from Detroit; and he asks a cute girl to the school dance. Napoleon Dynamite isnít so much a coming of age film as it is a study of peoplesí quirks. The characters in this movie thrive amazingly; with each new scene comes another joyous mannerism or event.

     John Heder shines as Napoleon in every way possible. After watching a good comedy, I will often impersonate the main character, to relive the brilliant moments in the picture. Thatís not the case with young Napoleon Dynamite, though. Even if I were to study it for hours at a time, I do not think I could ever imitate Hederís work; it represents the most unique and enthralling performance of recent years. When simply thinking of Napoleonís voice I am tempted to chuckleóa complement I surely have never paid in a review before. Like most all great actors should, Heder made me want to see this flick again, and sometime in the future, I definitely will.

     Director Jared Hess is the most essential part of the superlative execution of Napoleon Dynamite, however. He has an excellent taste in comedy, and has cut this film to perfection, nearly mastering the aspects of pacing, tempo, and rhythm. I should also complement film editor Jeremy Coon in this area; after all, it was he who forced Hess to make the necessary, tough cuts in the film. Once a punch-line is delivered in Napoleon Dynamite, the scene then quickly comes to a close; the movie is, quite frankly, not allowed to lollygag. Most importantly, this technique keeps things amusing and funny. If one is not a particular fan of a segment, it never lasts long enough to be called an endurance test. My reaction serves as the perfect example of this. For me, the mediocre opening sketches flew by quickly, even though I didnít find much liking in them.

     I know that the movie is going to receive a limited release come time, but it has not been made clear yet by Fox Searchlight as to how widely they will be expanding it. If they take their chances on it, and play their cards right, then I would predict that Napoleon Dynamite will perform quite well. This is the kind of story that no viewer can resistósimple and entertainingówith no bitter Hollywood aftertaste. From a quality standpoint, Hessí motion picture has just as much potential as My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Bend it like Beckham did; whether such will be lived up to will soon be seen. If it does end up in a theatre even remotely close to you, though, seize the opportunity, and see it. Napoleon Dynamite is wacky and full of social wisdom, a one-of-a-kind experience for anyone, regardless of their preference in film.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (5.20.2004)

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