In a summer of full of ogres, killer robots, natural disasters and Spideys with multimillion dollar budgets, a little flick set in middle America with a most unsung hero has emerged from the pack as one of the genuine successes of the year. Napoleon Dynamite is a simple movie about -- let’s be honest folks -- a geek.

(2004) Film Review

This page was created on August 23, 2004
This page was last updated on August 24, 2004

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Directed by Jared Hess
Screenplay by Jared Hess

Cast (in credits order)
Jon Heder .... Napoleon Dynamite
Jon Gries .... Uncle Rico
Aaron Ruell .... Kip
Efren Ramirez .... Pedro
Diedrich Bader .... Rex
Tina Majorino .... Deb
Sandy Martin .... Grandma
Haylie Duff .... Summer
Trevor Snarr .... Don
Shondrella Avery .... LaFawnduh
Bracken Johnson .... Randy
Carmen Brady .... Starla
Ellen Dubin .... Ilene
J.C. Cunningham .... Jock No. 1
James Smooth .... Jock No. 2
Brian Petersen .... Lance
Brett Taylor .... Nathan
Tom Lefler .... Principal Svadean
Elizabeth Miklavcic .... Renae
Scott Thomas .... Sheldon
Loria Badali .... Shoney (as Loria Badelli)
Emily Kennard .... Trisha
Jamen Gunnell .... Vern
Nanette Young .... Corrina

Produced by
Jeremy Coon .... executive producer
Jeremy Coon .... producer
Sean Covel .... producer
Frederick Wedler .... line producer
Jory Weitz .... executive producer
Chris Wyatt .... producer

Original Music by John Swihart
Cinematography by Munn Powell
Film Editing by Jeremy Coon

MPAA: Rated PG for thematic elements and language.
Runtime: 82 min / USA:86 min (Sundance Film Festival)

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Jared Hess makes an unforgettable directorial debut with NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, a hilarious, tender, and original portrait of a truly eccentric character. Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is a high-school outcast in every sense of the word. More interested in playing tetherball by himself and drawing pictures of his favorite animal, the "liger" (a combination of a lion and a tiger), Napoleon is ignored by everyone in his tiny hometown of Preston, Idaho. At home, things aren't much better. His uber-nerd older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) and ultra-vain Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) are too busy with their own obsessions to give Napoleon the time of day. It isn't until a new student, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), arrives that Napoleon finds friendship and performs an act of brave defiance that makes him a true hero.

Written by Hess and his wife Jerusha, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE brilliantly captures the awkwardness of high school without succumbing to condescension. Most of this can be attributed to Heder, who steps into Napoleon's moon boots with a jaw-dropping flawlessness. The rest of the cast is just as natural, underplaying their roles and letting the comedy unfold without forcing any of the jokes. Add a hilarious soundtrack of 1980s hits and you have an instant classic, a crowd-pleasing riot that has an undeniably universal appeal.

This film screened at SXSW 2004 in Austin, Texas.

Film Reviewer

Chris received his BA in Theatre from Grambling State University in Louisiana. He is an IT Techie by day and armchair film critic/analyst/lover by night. Upon coming to the Lord in 1994 and learning the Word, Chris began to notice Biblical principles and attributes displayed in Hollywood movies and began to apply them to his own life. It's his passion and mission to show the world (Christians and non-Christians) how to apply these principles to their own lives as well.
Click to enlargeIn a summer of full of ogres, killer robots, natural disasters and Spideys with multimillion dollar budgets, a little flick set in middle America with a most unsung hero has emerged from the pack as one of the genuine successes of the year. Napoleon Dynamite is a simple movie about -- let’s be honest folks -- a geek (Jon Heder). He and his brother Kip, a thirty-something-year old, chat room addicted doofus himself, live with their grandma and their pet llama where the daily item on the dinner menu is steak. Lots and lots of steak . . . although, as the flick goes on, we find that Napoleon also has a fixation with Tater Tots!

Grandma has an accident while on a "date" and Napoleon and Kip’s uncle Rico is summoned to take care of them. Rico is a total slimeball whose life is stuck in a permanent freeze-frame of the year 1982 when he was a star high school quarterback (or is it all a figment of his imagination?). Rico persuades Kip to join him on a get rich quick scheme selling Tupperware -- and eventually, herbal breast enhancers! It just may work . . . if Rico can keep Napoleon out of his hair.

Click to enlargeNapoleon meets Pedro, a immigrant from Mexico, and they bond while demonstrating their skills in bike jumping. Napoleon gives Pedro the courage to do the impossible . . . whether it’s asking the prettiest girl in gym class to the big school dance or, ultimately, running for class president. When this pretty girl turns down Pedro, Pedro takes Napoleon’s neighbor Deb to the dance. Unbeknownst to Napoleon, Deb has a major crush on Napoleon but isn’t doing a good job hiding it.

When the film was over, I called my wife and told her that I had just witnessed the greatest geek film of all time! While most high school films get their kicks by laughing at the geeks involved, Napoleon Dynamite succeeds because our heroic geek is not involved in the joke at all. In his mind, he is Superman! A legend with "mad skills" who dances to the beat of his own drummer . . . both literally and figuratively. There are one-liners in this film that are destined to take their place in the "classic movie lines hall of fame." We’re talking gut busting humor, folks! And his act of loyalty to his best friend Pedro during the class president debate shall live in eternity. Other "destined to be classic moments" include: Kip’s adventure with a knockoff martial arts guru, Napoleon picking out his suit for the big dance, Pedro’s haircut and Rico recalling those football glory days of yesteryear on video tape. The funniest one of all involves Kip coming face to face with the woman of his cyberdreams . . . not to mention his ensuing transformation!

It seems that every summer, in the midst of the slam-bang heavy hitters, a simple story comes along and sweeps critics and audiences off their feet. With this film, this summer is no exception. Why in the heck is this little movie about a big geek experiencing all this critical and commercial success (at the time of this review, while all the other summer films are fading from the top 10, this one is climbing it’s way in)?

Maybe the answer is found by way of the Bible (1 Corinthians 1:27): "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

Click to enlargeGod has a track record of using simple messages and simple men to impact the world. Just look at what He did with a carpenter from Galilee. Napoleon Dynamite is indeed a simple story about a simple guy whose life is a celebration of the greatness within him. The film’s simple message exemplifies two of life’s most important qualities: the ability to stay true to yourself and the inspiration that comes from being a faithful friend to others.


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