If David Lynch decided to ditch the dwarves and make an American high school comedy, the result might be something like Napoleon Dynamite. Debut director Jared Hess' wonderfully offbeat movie revels in its own kookiness and is the most engaging teen movie to emerge from the States for many a year. Jon Heder shines as the titular loser who actually thinks he's too cool for school; you'll be rooting for him throughout his close encounters of the nerd kind.
Set in the comatose Idaho town of Preston (just inland from the middle of nowhere), the film plays like a Hicksville version of Alexander Payne's Election. Curly-haired, bespectacled, and every lanky inch a geek (right down to his elaborate drawings of 'ligers' - a cross between a lion and tiger), Napoleon (Heder) is a hero only in his own mind. That is, until he hooks up with school newcomer Pedro (Efren Ramirez), a quiet kid who wants to become School President.
"THE HUMOUR IS REMINISCENT OF THE SIMPSONS"
Napoleon's home life is equally bizarre. Parentless, he lives with his even more freaky thirtysomething brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) and their all-terrain vehicle-riding grandmother. When she breaks her coccyx, however, Uncle Rico is drafted in to look after them. A Burt Reynolds wannabe who's stuck in 1982, he's hilariously vain and forever pursuing get-rich-quick schemes. Throw in a time-travel machine purchased off the internet, cow-judging competitions, and a highly unlikely romantic coupling and you've got just some of the ingredients in this delightful can of weird.
At times the humour is reminiscent of The Simpsons (a school bus drives by a field just as a farmer shoots his cow in the head); at others it's Fast Times At Ridgemont High told exclusively from the geeks' perspective. Forget American Pie, this is the slice of school life to tuck into.
Napoleon Dynamite is released in UK cinemas nationwide on 26th December 2004.