BY MOLLY TEMPLETON
EAGLE VS. SHARK: Written and directed by Taika Waititi. Music, The Phoenix Foundation. Starring Loren Horsley, Jermaine Clement, Craig Hall, Rachel House, Brian Sergent and Joel Tobeck. Miramax, 2007. R. 87 minutes.
There's something of the geek hit Napoleon Dynamite in Taika Waititi's Eagle Vs. Shark, a goofy tale of misfit love, awkward, frozen-in-adolescence boys and surviving in the "normal" world. But Waititi's film doesn't too energetically mimic the tone that put me off Napoleon: that sense that the director was laughing at, not with, his subjects. Still, there's a certain amount of skepticism directed at obsessive video game store clerk Jarrod (Jermaine Clement) and sweet, slightly vacant Lily (Loren Horsley), a jobless fast-food server who's in love with Jarrod simply because the mole on his lip is the mirror image of her own.
Many of EVS' cleverest moments come early, particularly at the "dress as your favorite animal" party from which the title comes. (Jarrod was going to dress as a shark, but then he realized an eagle was "slightly better.") Later, Jarrod's "hacker" friend (whose computer is infected with a porn virus), his sister and brother-in-law and their entreprenuerial schemes and his depressed father provide laughs when Jarrod and Lily travel to Jarrod's hometown so he can finalize his plans for revenge against a high school bully. There are sweet moments in this film, but most of them come from Lily's interactions with Jarrod's family; Jarrod himself is insufferable, a manchild whose thoughtless cruelty and self-importance made me wish Lily would come to her senses and DTMFA (as Dan Savage would put it; more politely, I wished she'd split). But Waititi is endlessly forgiving of his buffoon of a character, a trait which becomes more endearing every time the director lets a little magic creep into the film via charming animated sequences. This debut feature wobbles, but Waititi might be one to watch out for. Eagle Vs. Shark opens Friday as a LateNite feature at the Bijou.