A review of “Napoleon Dynamite” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *

Rating: PG-13 for mature themes and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 86 minutes

 

 

Ridicule rears its ugly head in this dreary comedy that was this year’s Sundance Festival’s most unlikely hit.

Preston, Idaho is the scene of the title character’s miserable existence.  Napoleon (Jon Heder) is the consummate nerd, a geek so un-chic that his own red-meat eating relatives can’t stand the sight of him.  They’re no picnic either; a slow-witted grandma who’s kickin’ it off-road with her dirt bike, a douche-bag uncle who sells door-to-door whatchamacalits, and a cranky sib who comes to life in the sleazy privacy of internet chat rooms.

Napoleon navigates the tricky travails of Preston High with a bitter stupidity that’s positively grating.  All the clichés are accounted for: the popular girl (Hilary Duff’s little sis Haylie) who turns Napoleon’s advances down cold, a sizzling passion for the misunderstood art of tetherball, and equally cretinous buddy Pedro (Efren Ramirez) who claws his way up from social pond scum, leaving Napoleon behind to scratch his ass and wonder where it all went wrong. Zzzzzzz.

There’s a fine line between humor and humiliation. Pedro’s sad-sack demeanor as he strives for romantic gusto and mounts a campaign for class president invites censure and scorn, not laughs. Election managed to sling its politically wicked bows and arrows with a dark edge that was both stylish and witty.  Napoleon plays it ignominiously, mistaking insults for jests and racism for narrative guile. 

Director Jared Hess’ tone is mockingly mean-spirited, making it virtually impossible to care for his motley crew of misfits.  Ugh.