“Eagle vs Shark” really, really wants to be the New Zealand “Napoleon Dynamite.” I mean REALLY. If “Napoleon Dynamite” were told from the point of view of Deb instead of Napoleon, and if everyone had Kiwi accents — and if you removed the filmmakers’ affection for their characters completely — you’d have “Eagle vs Shark.” But why would you want it?
The girl in this “geeks in love” story is Lily (Loren Horsley), a socially inept, crooked-smiling 20-something who works at a burger joint. Her parents are dead; she lives with her brother, Damien (Joel Tobeck), whose delusion — everyone in this movie has delusions — is that he’s a great celebrity impersonator and an all-around funny guy.
Lily’s crush is on Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), an electronics-store employee with a too-cool-for-school demeanor and a fondness for martial arts, both in real life and in video games. The joke, of course, is that he’s not cool at all. He’s a loser just like Lily and Damien. But he THINKS he’s quite a catch.
Jarrod has been preparing to return to his hometown and beat up the guy who bullied him in high school. Lily joins him in his quest, and we meet Jarrod’s family members, all cut from the same “get-a-load-of-what-dorks-they-are!” cloth.
In the meantime, Jarrod and Lily have an odd romance together. It’s odd not just because they both are, but because it seems to be founded on the principle that Jarrod can be a senseless jerk and Lily can be OK with that. For you see, Jarrod isn’t just immature and geeky; he’s genuinely insensitive, breaking up with Lily almost as soon as they arrive at his hometown, suddenly making her an unwelcome guest who has no way to leave. Lily, no doubt lacking in the self-esteem department, doesn’t seem to notice she’s being mistreated until the film is nearly over.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi (who appears in flashbacks as Jarrod’s dead brother, in whose shadow Jarrod still lives), the movie’s definition of “funny” is identical to most people’s definition of “random.” Referring to his nemesis, Jarrod says, “He’s gonna reap what he sowed, and it won’t be corn. Or wheat.” In discussing some of the festivities planned for an upcoming party: “My friend has a helmet, and he’s gonna let us chuck shoes at his head.” That kind of thing is funny here and there, but it’s not much to base an entire screenplay on.
Everyone speaks with that dry lack of enthusiasm that characterized “Napoleon Dynamite.” The difference is that “Napoleon” was genuinely quirky and seemed to be mocking its nerdy characters with some measure of affection; “Eagle vs Shark” is self-consciously odd and only wants to hold up its protagonists as objects of derision. There’s no compassion here, and not many laughs, either.
C (1 hr., 28 min.; )