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"Napoleon Dynamite"

Directed by Jared Hess.
Written by Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess.
Starring Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Tina Majorino and Jon Gries.
Release Year:  2004 
Review Date:  6/30/04


I had a freebie to go see this flick a month ago when it came through D.C. on a promo tour, but I passed on it, and it always takes me a while to get around to paying for a film that I had a shot at seeing for free.  Finally, I caught up with "Napoleon Dynamite" tonight and I must say...I'm not quite sure what all of the hype was about.

Don't get me wrong--you need to see "Napoleon Dynamite", because the film is beautiful in a number of ways, from the beautiful Idaho countryside to the beautiful use of the static shots throughout the film (it will remind you of "The Royal Tenenbaums" in a hundred ways) to...well, the sheer beauty of the performance by Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite, who won't win the Oscar for this performance but ought to get a lot of votes, cause this is some great, great shit.

There really is no plot to the film; it's just a kind of "week in the life" roundup of a standard issue week for Napoleon, his brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), his uncle Rico (Jon Gries), his new buddy Pedro (Efren Ramirez) and a new ladyfriend named Deb (Tina Majorino), all of whom spend their time hangin' out in Idaho, city unknown.  Along the way, there's a dance, a dance tape, a school election, a taekwondo class, and...well, you just need to see it.

My problems with the flick were mostly related to the one-trick-ness of it all; sure, Napoleon as written is hilarious, and as a character creation, Heder knocks it out of the park.  But, his antics get very repetitive very quickly, sometimes in the same scene.  From his dialogue rhythms, to the way he snaps his head back to drink Kool-Aid, to his long deadpan stares, "Napoleon Dynamite" has great moments, but as a 30-minute comedy, it would be the greatest 30-minute comedy of all time because the thing wouldn't have gotten old so quickly.  In fact, I'm just impressed that director Jared Hess got 85 minutes out of this, because some of this gets old quickly.

And, like "Ghost World", or any Todd Solondz film, the quirkiness of the characters and the awkward pauses are amusing for a while, but in "Napoleon Dynamite" they seem to wear out more quickly.  I liked the scenes with the uncle, or when Kip finally gets the chance to meet his chat-room girlfriend, but did you get the feeling that Hess was using the sales-pitch sequences with Rico to fill up time?  After a while, I wasn't as happy when Rico was onscreen, and he gets less and less funny all film long.

But, you contrast all of this with some funny lines from Napoleon, or quietly cool scenes featuring the developing friendship between the three school outcasts (Deb, Pedro and Napoleon), or the real barnburner in the film, a dance scene featuring our lead dancing to Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat", and you have yourself a great moments film that won't last in my mind forever, but if it's on TNT next year I'll watch it just to see the ending again.

Fun movie.  A bit overrated, but still a film that, with a good audience, will be a great time at the theater.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09