Napoleon Dynamite (PG)

Late summer to mid-fall is the great abyss of movie entertainment. This is the time of year when major Hollywood studios start unloading their garbage on the public.

Hence films like “Paparazzi,” “Anacondas,” “Exorcist IV” and “Alien Vs. Predator” come to dominate a theater near you.

Movies with even a modicum of box office appeal have already been released during the summer blockbuster season, while the studios sit on the good films, waiting to unleash their OscarĀ© hopefuls closer to the end of year. There’s just not much worth 15 bucks, two cokes, and a bucket of popcorn these days.

But every once in a while a few gems break out this time of the year to find success they never would have thought possible otherwise. Typically they are low-budget, independent films that catch some momentum and some how rise above the mediocrity. Right now there are three such films making waves-“Open Water,” “Hero,” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” All three films are taking advantage of the late summer entertainment slump and they aren’t going unnoticed. “Hero,” a foreign language film starring Jet Li, has been number one at the box office now for two weeks running. Yet nothing compares to the staying power exhibited by the summer’s biggest surprise-“Napoleon Dynamite.”

“Napoleon Dynamite” is destined to become a cult classic. The simplistic beauty of this film belies the notion that big name stars, big time directors, big city locales, and big dollar budgets hold the keys to big box office bank. Scripted and directed by John Hess, co-scripted by Jerusha Hess, this character-driven flick delivers laughs even after the credits finish rolling. (Just in case you didn’t catch it-that was a hint to stick around to the bitter end.) While the story isn’t very complicated it still manages to appeal to adults and teens alike, although certain moviegoers might not be able to get around the quirkiness of the characters these imaginative writers have created.

Quirky or not, these are wonderful characters and they are brought to life by an eclectic ensemble cast. John Heder’s uncanny delivery as Napoleon garners more laughs than the wry dialogue deserves at times. Napoleon is that really weird kid at school perfectly oblivious to the fact he is weird; the idiot that thinks everybody else is an idiot and by and large he’s right. Napoleon’s world is turned upside down (sort of) by a series of events that include his grandmother’s (Sandy Martin) fluke dune-buggy accident, a chance meeting with the new kid at school, and an encounter with a mysterious sales girl who leaves all her merchandise on his front porch.

Efren Ramirez gives a deliberate and lovable performance as Napoleon’s new best bud, Pedro, but even with a friend in tow, things aren’t going so great for the hero of our story when Uncle Rico arrives. Rico, brought to life by character vet Jon Gries, was the back up quarterback in 1982 when Preston, Idaho lost the state championship game. And Rico is still stuck in 1982; still trapped on the sidelines riding the pine of life. Deidrich Bader lends a hand as Rex, the owner of a local dojo who has designed his own style of fighting he calls Rex Kwan Do. As per his usual, Bader dispatches the audience directly into uncontrollable fits of laughter.

Tina Majorino renders a sweet turn as Deb who for some reason unbeknownst to anyone is more than a little sweet on Napoleon. Maybe she does need therapy after all? Hillary Duff’s sis Haylie steps in as Summer, the most popular girl running for school president promising to make it Summer All Year Long for her constituency. Rookie Aaron Ruell rounds out the cast as Napoleon’s lisping brother Kip. Kip joins their Uncle Rico on a couple of scams in order raise enough cash to bring his cyber-chick LaFonduh (played by the voluptuous Shondrella Avery) to Idaho for a visit from her native Detroit.

Part of the massive appeal for young people is in a screenplay that takes our politically correct world and turns it upside down. The script is witty, the performances exceptional, and Hess manages to capture the beauty of Idaho in a subtle way. Filming on his home turf, Hess chose the perfect locations for this story and the end result is nothing short of sly artistic beauty.

Perhaps the best thing about “Napoleon Dynamite” is its PG rating. It is refreshing to see a high school flick that isn’t over-the-top nasty (“American Pie 2”) or toned-down so much it becomes unrealistic (“Mean Girls”). “Napoleon” gets its laughs and strikes a chord without having to compromise for ratings or demographics.

“Napoleon Dynamite” gets a HOT DATE rating for originality, cinematography, dialogue, and a group of actors that pull it all together so well. What it lacks in story, it more than makes up for in many other ways.

From A Christian Perspective:

“Napoleon Dynamite” is good fun for the entire family. There are a few questionable words (not really curse words, but they might be objectionable to some) and a couple of thematic moments that make you think something bad is about to happen, but nothing ever does. There’s a bit of old-school innuendo and subtext but only seasoned movie buffs will probably catch on. The fact of the matter is that there are very few so-called family flicks that are this clean and still entertaining for all ages.