The eponymous Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is the sort of nerd that
nerds themselves avoid: he’s to hip, cool and happening what Gary
Glitter is to the National Crèche Association. Sporting hair that makes
Brian May’s supervolumized follicle holocaust look flat and listless
and exhibiting a ‘boat race’ that makes Salman Rushdie seem like he’s
pure facial gold, it’s little wonder that he’s a bully’s plaything at
school. Things aren’t much better at home, too. Which is in Idaho. His
older brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell), is quite possibly even nerdier than
him, championing a haircut modelled on the Führer circa 1933 and
betraying a penchant for surfing chat-rooms frequented by desperate,
Afro-American women hungry for the Mr. Muscle guy. It comes as no
shock, then, when Napoleon decides to do something about his dullard
life. Resolving to befriend the only Latino in school, Dynamite, in
spite of the odds and in a bid to improve his profile, looks to woo a
hick classmate in readiness for the upcoming prom, and, latterly,
attempts to get his new buddy Pedro – someone with all the charisma of
a stale dog fart – sworn in as school President. But fate and the
arrival of his uncle Nico (donning a rug every bit as good as Terry
Wogan’s thatched masterpiece) in the Dynamite residence look to be
conspiring against him.

Redolent in places of some of Todd Solondz’s teen genre output,
director Jared Hess has constructed a wacky homage to the everyman
school loser, one which is largely bereft of a genuine storyline and,
as such, seems fairly disjointed. What’s more, that the editing feels
as if it has been overseen by Stevie Wonder rather pronounces this lack
of cohesion. Nonetheless, there is humour aplenty. Simply to look at
Napoleon is to laugh. And marrying his gangly, road-kill ugly features
with social skills commensurate with those of a Tourettes sufferer at a
Mormon cremation, then the only reaction is to snigger incessantly. Add
to this, too, excellent turns from Jon Gries as Uncle Rico and
especially from Ruell as the painfully geektabulous Kip, and the comedy
moments really do abound. But not all the laughter is without a feeling
of awkwardness: for all the comedy, there is a tacit, underlying sense
that being one of life’s pariahs can be a less than humorous existence.
Whatever emotions are aroused, though, the freshness of the acting and
the quirkiness of the script are engaging, if not in any way seminal.

All in all, Napoleon Dynamite is a decent enough movie, but one which
will assuredly polarise opinion: some will call it crap, others a
masterclass in alternative teen cinema.