Given the long gestation period of your typical feature, from the moment of conception to the moment of distribution, it can be tough to determine just how much one film was influenced by its recent predecessors. That period might elongate even further in the case of a small independent comedy from New Zealand, such as Eagle vs. Shark. But it's difficult to believe that writer/director Taika Waititi wasn't at least familiar with Napoleon Dynamite by the time cameras rolled, since Jared Hess' film came out in mid-2004, and Waititi's premiered at Sundance in 2007. Why this matters is that Eagle vs. Shark is basically a Kiwi clone of Dynamite. The close similarities to Dynamite's staccato narrative rhythms might have escaped notice, except for Jemaine Clement's decision to play the lead as a veritable impersonation of Jon Heder's Napoleon. Clement's Jarrod makes monosyllabic pronouncements about his favorite animal. He practices karate moves that mirror Napoleon's dance steps. He even travels through the world with a temperament of spasmodic wariness. Jarrod's main difference from Napoleon is that he's a lot less sympathetic, proving himself continually unworthy of the devotion of Loren Horsley's Lily. It's too bad these derivative qualities are so damaging to the viewing experience, because Clement is dynamite (if you will) on HBO's Flight of the Conchords, Horsley's sweetly understated performance is a true find, and the movie should have been the Little Kiwi Comedy That Could. Instead, it feels like a grab bag of random absurdities, including its title, inspired by an unremarkable and thematically unimportant costume party near the beginning. One of the most puzzling inclusions is the character of Jarrod's daughter. Not only is she superfluous to the story, but -- speaking of influences -- she bears a striking resemblance to Abigail Breslin's Olive from Little Miss Sunshine.
by Derek Armstrong review