SYTYCR Finals: Your Accomplice… VS. Fox Mulder (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE)

by Nick Jobe · September 5, 2012 · So You Think You Can Review · No Comments

It was a tight race! It was back-and-forth for quite a while, but in the last minutes, Fox Mulder took the win. Congrats! But now… it’s finally time. After 2 months(!), it’s the final battle. Who will win? That’s up to you! Read, vote, comment, enjoy! You have until Friday. The last 3 identities, along with the winner announcement, will go up at that point. The updated bracket is below. Click to make it bigger.


Review #1
By Your Accomplice in the Wood Chipper

It’s been a long time since I saw this film upon its initial release back in 2004, and I swear the film has changed an awful lot in those brief 8 years, as the last time I watched it I’m sure it was a comedy. In fact, what we have here is a character study of a mentally ill teenager from a broken home, who has grown up the best he could in a world that clearly has no place for him, and that he seems to want to be no part of.

Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder, in a role from which he shall never escape) lives with his quad-biking Grandma (Sandy Martin), 32-year old chatroom-trawling brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) and their pet llama, Tina. Yes, a llama. Isn’t that quirky? When Grandma is put in hospital after breaking her coccyx (pronounced cock-ix), the boys’ Uncle Rico (John Gries), a delusional failure with a Lego-man haircut, obsessed with door-to-door get rich quick schemes and his former football glory days, comes to look after them. Meanwhile, Napoleon befriends Pedro (Efren Ramirez), a new student whose Mexican upbringing has left him at odds with the cultural minutiae of Preston, Idaho, and attempts to forge a relationship with Deb (Tina Majorino), an equally outcast classmate trying to earn money to pay for her college tuition by taking people’s portraits.

This film doesn’t have much of a plot, instead making do with a series of sketches, skits and short stories, some of which become resolved towards the end, whilst others fizzle out and become gladly forgotten. Napoleon helps Pedro run for Class President against the popular Summer Wheatly (Hayley Duff), Kip is obsessed with meeting his Internet girlfriend for the first time, Rico is looking to get rich and/or laid, and everyone else just wants to get on with their lives, in the vain hope that this ridiculous bunch of crazies leaves them the hell alone.

If it weren’t for Kip’s use of Internet dating, it would be almost impossible to date this film. The town of Preston seems to have picked and chosen a cornucopia of cultural clashes from the second half of the 21st century, and as such has become lost with no identity of its own. Napoleon himself is dolled up in moon boots and baggy trousers with tater tot filled zip pockets, oversized glasses and an unruly mess of red curls defiantly battling against an off-centre parting. He is every nerd character from every high school movie, all rolled into one. His mind is addled from Dungeons & Dragons, with notepads full of unicorn drawings and a belief that popularity comes from having a particular set of skills – I like to think he grows up to become Liam Neeson in Taken, but that’s just me.

I will admit that I did at least chuckle at a couple of moments – Napoleon’s attempt at stuntriding on Pedro’s bike, Kip’s third act transformation, a farmer shotgunning a cow in front of a busload of school kids – but for the most part I felt that this reeked of one desperate attempt at quirkiness after another. Is there supposed to be meaning behind Napoleon dragging a G.I. Joe behind his schoolbus on a length of fishing line? Or that he apparently has some affinity for tasting defects in batches of milk? Director Jared Hess (Nacho Libre), who co-wrote with his wife Jerusha, was clearly aiming for a Wes Anderson level of kookiness, but they sadly forgot to make the film entertaining, not just odd.

Heder was perfectly cast in the film, having perfected Napoleon’s slackened jaw and vacant expression in Hess’Peluca, the short upon which this is based, and the rest of the cast are all game and ably play their paper-thin one-note caricatures, all entirely devoid of depth. The opening credits, comprised mostly of a variety of school cafeteria lunches that will be eaten later in the film, were inventive and signposted the kind of film I was going to be watching, but sadly they were the highlight. What was most definitely not was the climax, featuring Napoleon dancing to Jamiroquai’s Canned Heat, a song which I previously liked but shall now remain sullied in my memory by a scene that goes on for far too long without ever once raising even a smile. Thank you, Napoleon Dynamite, and thank you Nick for making me watch this film. Go eat a decroded piece of crap.

Maybe I just didn’t understand the film. Perhaps, as with Rex Kwan Do, the martial arts class Napoleon and Kip take in the film, I don’t have the required strength of a grizzly, reflexes of a puma or wisdom of a man required to fully appreciate this film. I suppose it was only fair that after watching four truly brilliant films in a row I should have to watch one of significantly lesser quality, especially when you look at some of the films my opponent has had to review. Amazingly this film became something of a cult classic, and it’s possibly the sheer volume of superlative-laden hype surrounding the film that has added to my disappointment. To this day I still see people wearing ‘Vote for Pedro’ t-shirts. Just what do all these people see in the film? Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe I don’t want to.

And remember, your wildest dreams will come true if you vote for me.


Review #2
By Fox Mulder

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that a modest but passionate group of viewers identifies as their own. These are films with a small budget that draw unexpected crowds and spread like wildfire through word of mouth. A prime example is Napoleon Dynamite, the surprising 2004 debut from the unconventional Jared Hess. The writer/director hails from Idaho and brings a much-different perspective to the screen. His offbeat humor isn’t for everyone, but Hess found the right formula with his first feature. The fact that an animated TV series appeared eight years later with the same characters is a testament to its staying power. It’s an awkward story that doesn’t work for everyone, yet it’s found a devoted audience that remains strong today.

The key factor in the success was the casting of the unknown Jon Heder in the title role. The gangly 26-year-old brought endearing qualities to a character with little social skills. Napoleon is a high-school student who’s so wrapped up in his own idiosyncratic pursuits that he barely realizes his place apart from most classmates. His regular outfit is a t-shirt with an animal on it tucked into jeans, with moon boots rounding out the ensemble. He runs from conflict with his arms at his sides and mouth breathes like a champ. The cool kids might laugh and bully Napoleon, but he doesn’t seem too concerned with their behavior. He’s a grumpy guy who lives with his grandmother and even odder brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) at a house with a pet llama. While the behavior is ridiculous, it retains a down-to-earth quality that keeps the story realistic and pretty mundane.

Hess’ comedy focuses on uncomfortable moments and scenes that rarely follow the expected formula. There’s also an inherent sadness to many of his characters. The main example here is Napoleon’s Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), who’s obsessed with a football game from 30 years earlier. If only he’d gotten the chance to lead the team to the state title, his whole life would be different. His slimy attempts to sell dingy items to gullible homeowners are played for comedy, but we pity him just as much. Rico spends much of his time recording a silly video where he shows off his football moves. It isn’t clear who the audience is for this footage, which is described by Napoleon as the worst video he’s ever seen. Rico even buys a “time machine” online to get back to 1982, which leads to one of the movie’s funnier gags. Like the characters in Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, he can’t get over his lost dreams of his youth.

Another interesting element is the 1980s style that seems out of place in a modern-day movie. Napoleon uses a Walkman with cassettes, lives in a retro house with wood paneling, and plays tapes in a VCR. The soundtrack includes “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper, “The Promise” by When in Rome, and even the theme from the A-Team. The humor is different, but there’s plenty of John Hughes in Napoleon Dynamite. The ‘80s material feels kitschy yet adds to the unexpected charm. What’s interesting is that it lives in the same world where popular girls perform a choreographed dance to the Backstreet Boys “Larger than Life”. This is also a place where the Internet exists, and Napoleon’s brother Kip meets his soul-mate Lafawnduh (Shondrella Avery) there. The mishmash of time periods is tricky and doesn’t always work, but there’s enough appeal to offset any tonal issues.

Along for the ride are the oafish Dietrich Bader as Rex and the always-charming Tina Majorino as Deb. He plays a martial-arts instructor of “Rex Kwon Do” who sports ridiculous American flag pants. You do not want to get a roundhouse kick to the face from those bad boys. She’s the shy girl down the street who’s the perfect match for Napoleon. Deb runs a glamour shots business to raise money for college and is an outsider just like him. There are some misunderstandings and false starts, but there’s always a sense they’ll get together in the end. The other main supporting character is Napoleon’s friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez), who is strangely monotonous but decides to run for class president. He seems to have little chance against the class bombshell Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff), but you never know when you have friends like Napoleon.

Napoleon Dynamite grossed $46 million at the box office on a minimal budget of just $400,000. That’s a stunning achievement and immediately put Hess and Heder on the map. Neither has lived up to that promise, however. It raises the question of whether this was just one of those rare cases of lightning in a bottle. Hess’ other two films are the mediocre Nacho Libre and the painful Gentleman Broncos. Both had a similar tone, but they became either too broad or awkward without the same charm. Hess worked with talented actors like Jack Black and Jemaine Clement, but neither could help much. In Heder’s case, he’s had plenty of gigs during the past eight years, but none have reached this level. It might be impossible for him to find another role in this sphere. He can’t play a conventional leading man, and there are only so many goofy parts to play in comedies each year.

My fandom for this film has decreased a bit since I caught it in the theaters back in 2004, but there’s still plenty to enjoy on repeat viewings. The style is so down-to-earth that it’s an easy watch, especially when you consider the 82-minute running time. The classic scenes like Napoleon’s dance on stage to Jamiroquai remain hilarious. On closer inspection, moments that don’t work stand out because of the languid pace. A lot of the Pedro material falters and doesn’t match the fun of the main story. The other students are also so razor-thin that we don’t seem them as actual threats to Napoleon’s greatness. He may be antisocial, but at least he doesn’t keep repeating the same over-the-top smiles. Heder’s grand performance and plenty of fun supporting parts make up for any sloppier portions. It’s an original debut that can succeed if you’re willing to approach it with the right mindset.


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