|Eagle vs Shark (2007)
Starring: Loren Horsley, Jemaine Clement, Joel Tobeck
Director: Taika Waititi
The ideal movie critic is supposed to be unbiased in his views of whatever movie he happens to be reviewing that day, but that’s complete and utter bullshit. We all have movies we’re looking forward to more than others, and are even willing to cut certain actors and directors a little slack when they fail. Which is why walking into a movie with that certain mindset can lead to disappointment – especially when those expectations crumble within the first thirty minutes. Such is the unfortunate case with “Eagle vs. Shark,” a quirky little romantic comedy out of New Zealand that borrows the geek chic brand of humor that made “Napoleon Dynamite” a cult classic, but delivers only a fraction of the laughs.
If Napoleon had a secret admirer, she’d probably be a lot like Lily (Loren Horsley), a shy fast food restaurant worker who’d like nothing more than to meet someone who loves her. For the time being, that role has unknowingly been filled by Jarrod (Jemaine Clement, of the folk parody duo Flight of the Conchords), a cocksure nerd whose greatest achievement in life appears to be his relation to his star athlete brother. Admiring Jarrod from afar during his daily visits to the burger shack where she works, Lily invites herself to his upcoming animal party (where you dress like your favorite animal) when the invitation meant for her prettier co-worker is tossed in the trash. It’s there, dressed like eagle and shark, that the two hit it off, eventually leading Lily to join Jarrod on a trip back to his hometown where he plans to fight the high school bully who terrorized him as a teenager.
The problem with “Eagle vs. Shark” isn’t that it’s not funny, but rather that it’s not funny enough. We laugh as we’re introduced to the social rejects (Lily as she suggests a customer try the new inside-out burger, and Jarrod as he projects a Zen-like meditation while playing “Mortal Kombat”), and we laugh some more as they make out in their animal costumes, but as soon as the action moves to Jarrod’s hometown, it ends up feeling more like “The Royal Tenenbaums” than “Napoleon Dynamite.” I get that the two main characters are a little strange, and that it might be a result of how they were raised, but does everyone have to be some silly caricature? Jarrod’s dad travels by wheelchair simply because he’s lazy, his sister and brother-in-law are constantly working on get-rich-quick schemes, and Lily’s own brother comes off as slightly retarded (he’s not).
If that’s not problem enough, the movie is an uneven mess. Writer/director Taika Waititi is obviously struggling to fill 88 minutes of film, and though that may be a sad realization, it’s true. The movie would have worked so much better as a short, especially since the script does so little in the way of actual character development. It also begs to ask the question: does Jarrod even deserve a girl like Lily? Sure, the two are a match made in awkward heaven, but what is it about Lily that has made her incapable of finding love? She’s not an ugly girl, and she’s most certainly not as strange as Jarrod is, so why is she forced to settle for a guy that initially wanted nothing to do with her? Waititi wants to make us believe that it’s because they’re so similar – which he backs up with a subplot involving two stop-motion apples who are brought back together after being split up – but it seems more convenient than anything else.
If there’s one good thing to be said about the film, though, it’s the performances by the two lead actors. Armed with tinted glasses and a hideous mullet, Clement is certainly the more memorable of the two characters, but it’s Horsley who gives the better performance. Which is fine by me, really, since Clement is much funnier when he’s doing his own material. Horsley, on the other hand, is an absolute joy to watch. Clearly vulnerable, yet strangely mesmerizing, the actress has that rare ability to make audiences fall in love with her. It’s just too bad that “Eagle vs. Shark” doesn’t exhibit those same qualities.
The single-disc release of “Eagle vs. Shark” probably won’t win over any new fans on DVD, but those that do intend on adding the indie comedy to their collections can expect a decent selection of extras including an audio commentary with writer/director Taika Waititi and star Loren Horsley (via phone), deleted scenes and outtakes. It’s exactly what you’d expect from such a low-budget release.