Laugh until you explode

DEREK TSE

, Last Updated: 1:50 PM ET

Meet Napoleon Dynamite, perhaps filmdom's ultimate high school misfit.

He has no fashion sense, wears enormous square glasses and keeps tater tots in his side pocket in case he wants to snack during class. He has a horrific quasi-afro, has no discernible skills other than drawing pictures of ligers (you know -- the offspring of a lion and a tiger), walks with a strange gait and speaks in a perpetually annoyed tone, especially when he utters his favourite epithet ("Id-iot!").

For much of his eponymous film, the slack-jawed Napoleon -- played by 26-year-old unknown Jon Heder -- is the butt of all sorts of mean-spirited jokes. And for the most part, the movie delivers big laughs -- although you may find yourself feeling a bit guilty about enjoying it so much.

There's a really nasty streak that runs through first-time director/screenwriter Jared Hess' debut, which was beloved by Sundance audiences.

You're encouraged to laugh at will at Napoleon and his friends, which include his dweebish older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), his best friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez), his '80s-obsessed uncle Rico (the scene-stealing Jon Gries) and his possible love interest Deb (Tina Majorino).

The movie regards most of its characters with contempt, and savages them mercilessly. Much of the time, even the spastic Napoleon has no redeeming qualities -- until a genuinely rousing climax set during his Idaho high school's Student Body Presidential presentations.

Still, Napoleon Dynamite is very, very funny, even if the jokes are at the characters' expense. And it doesn't even really tell a story. It follows Napoleon's dreary day-to-day existence -- living with his 31-year-old brother, another social misfit who likes to chat on the Internet; feeding his grandma's pet llama; getting bullied at school; going to the big dance; helping Pedro win the Student Body presidency against popular blond Summer (Haylie Duff, Hilary's older sister) -- at its own leisurely pace. Virtually every shot is designed to make the characters look ridiculous or grotesque in some way, and there are times when Napoleon Dynamite reaches almost surreal heights in its mockery.

All of the performances are terrific, especially Heder, and Gries, who plays the shifty ex-jock uncle who wishes he could travel back in time to 1982 when he was a real somebody instead of being the guy who lives out of his van and videotapes himself firing footballs in the air. Each cast member captures his small-town rubes and oddballs to a tee.

See Napoleon Dynamite and laugh at it -- and we guarantee you'll laugh a lot. Just don't expect to feel too proud about it afterward.

(This film is rated PG)


Videos

Photos