Napoleon Dynamite (John Heder) wears a tight t-shirt, jeans, and winter snow boots. He seems utterly careless about his attire or his attitude. He’s a loser, one so oblivious to the world around him that his character is consistently annoying.
Most importantly though, he’s not funny. His drawl words come out of his mouth so quietly, you can barely hear them. His temper tantrums make you want to slap him across the face. His eyes are hardly ever open, making you wonder if he is high or suffering from a mental defect.
For comparison, the dolts in the Jim Carrey classic Dumb & Dumber are lively idiots, full of energy and enthusiasm as they work towards their goal. Dynamite doesn’t have a goal, or he is too confined to his own world to realize he needs one.
Since the film revolves around the character, it is a critical misstep. There is no story to follow, the closest “plot” being his attempt to make Pedro (Efren Ramirez) class president, or to make Deb (Tina Majorino) his girlfriend. Lacking social skills to make either of those work is one thing, but literally having no clue how the world is working around you is another.
Napoleon Dynamite doesn’t offer much insight into the character’s situation. His house is filled with a brother and uncle who weirdly never left the ‘80s. He is living with his grandmother (Sandy Martin), although what happened to real parents is a mystery. Maybe they disowned him. Who wouldn’t?
Direction from Jared Hess is fine, using a number of long shots that help the audience feel his isolation. On the other hand, you have to believe it is his own fault. He makes no attempt to better himself or even understand why people reject him. The characters around him, including Uncle Rico (John Gries), realize they’re outcasts, but make the most of it. Dynamite inexplicably finds a girl just as mundane as he is, impossible to believe since two people this helpless in the same area is a stretch.
Surely these people exist in the world. Their story seems fit for a drama about how they live and their thought process, or even what mental block they seem to have. Laughing at someone who wears winter boots to school everyday suddenly seems too cruel.
Napoleon Dynamite’s hi-def debut is less than stellar, and is likely brought over from the same DVD master. Edge enhancement is regularly visible and distracting. Print damage can be excessive. Contrast is flat, and color is intentionally muted, but doesn’t help the sense of depth either. Noise is noticeable on the white backdrop of the bowling alley and in the sky before the closing credits. Detail is marginal as best.
A DTS-HD Master track isn’t needed for a straightforward comedy, and doesn’t do much to punch up the film. Some mild surround use during the school dance and assembly are marginally impressive. Bass comes from a pumped out soundtrack a few too many decibels higher than the dialogue. Heder’s near mumbling comes through clearly.
Two commentaries start the disc running. First up are director Jared Hess, producer Jeremy Coon, and Jon Heder. Track number two features actors Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries, and Tina Majorino. Two separate documentaries, one on the world premiere that follows a nervous director and a second fly-on-the-wall style making-of are worth your time despite running as long as the film together.
Loads of deleted scenes and outtakes offer an optional commentary, as does Peluca, the short film that inspired Napoleon Dynamite. A short featurette on casting is followed by three sets of audition tapes. A wide array of guest appearances by the characters, from various TV shows to the MTV Movie Awards, seems complete.