Eagle vs. Shark is nothing more and nothing less than a romantic, New Zealand variant of Napoleon Dynamite in which mockery of mental midgets is partially obscured by sympathy for their perfectly klutzy love. That Taika Waititi’s film attempts to mitigate derision with something approaching sincere compassion gives it a small step up on its cult-fave ancestor, but any minor improvements made to the Napoleon Dynamite template are offset by its wholesale derivation. Mimicking Jared Hess’s penchant for static, center-of-frame compositions and infatuation with weirdo kitsch (both of which were modeled after the work of Wes Anderson), director Waititi presents a cornucopia of gangly and/or ugly and/or socially inept and/or moronic dweebs whose every clumsy action is scored to a gratingly cutesy pop song, and interspersed by pointless, redundant stop-motion animated segments. It’s Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), a video-game store employee whose idiotic macho confidence comes from martial arts training and Xbox competition domination, who largely dominates this doofus free-for-all, even though the story’s heart lies with Lily (Loren Horsley), a shy outcast who works at a fast food restaurant and spends her days and nights pining for Jarrod. Their budding courtship begins at a party in which they dress as their favorite animal (his: eagle; hers: shark), flowers during conversations punctuated by “Awesome!” and “Same!,” and soon leads to Jarrod’s seaside hometown. Here, Eagle vs. Shark provides even more freaks (including Jarrod’s wheelchair-bound dad and tracksuit-selling sister and brother-in-law), a showdown between Jarrod and his high-school tormenter, but little that might pass as actual humor— unless, that is, one finds it funny to look down on and laugh at characters who’ve been designed primarily as abnormal objects of ridicule. Lily’s infatuation with Jarrod, and then subsequent dedication to him despite his nasty behavior, provides a dash of tenderness, and thus slight relief, from the otherwise scornful atmosphere. Yet Waititi cares less about the selflessness of Lily’s devotion or the intricacies of an amorous relationship than he does pitiful, photocopied Napoleon Dynamite-style gags, of which there are so many that the film’s imitativeness becomes out-and-out embarrassing.
- Miramax Films
- 88 min
- Taika Waititi
- Taika Waititi
- Loren Horsley, Jemaine Clement, Craig Hall, Rachel House, Brian Sergent, Joe Tobeck
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