June 5, 2007

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Eagle vs. Shark (R)
Nerds slowly and awkwardly mate in Eagle vs. Shark, a movie co-starring Jemaine Clement, half of the Flight of the Conchord team.

Flight of the Conchords is the HBO comedy about the New Zealand comedy/folk duo of the same name. I heartily recommend it for its quirky humor and brilliantly goofy music video parodies.

Eagle vs. Shark is equally quirky — quirkier maybe — but without the music shtick or Clement’s partner Bret McKenzie. The absence of these things is, uhm, unfortunate.

This is really Lily’s (Loren Horsley) story, the shark of the title. She’s a sweet but somewhat shy and sad girl who lives with her cartoonist brother and works a dead-end job at Meaty Boy. At least, she did work a dead-end job until her name was drawn out of a hat (a fixed game) as the employee to get laid off. On one of her final days, she meet Jarrod (Clement), a clerk at a nearby video store. He introduces himself to Lily by giving her an invitation to give to a prettier (in a trashy way) fellow employee for his animal party. Lily shows a rare moment of spark by keeping the invitation for herself and, dressed up like a shark, going to the party with the goal of landing herself a little Jarrod (dressed as shark), which she does after impressing him during a video game match.

Jarrod seems to be emotionally stuck at about 11 years old — a slow and socially maladjusted 11 — and has deluded himself into thinking he’s less of a nerd than he was back when he used to get beat up in high school. For whatever reason, though, Lily’s decided he’s the guy for her, so when he tells her that he has to go back home to mete out some vengeance on a former school bully, she gets her brother to drive them for a few days’ visit. Once at his father’s house — and back in the bosom of familial scorn — Jarrod becomes even more of a delusional jerk, dumping Lily and spending his time “training” for the fight he’s planned.

Lily is a genuinely nice girl who has made peace with her own weirdness and decided to have fun when she can. Jarrod is, well, a poser. This opposite approach to being a nerd in the cool kids’ world is where the movie finds most of its humor. Some of that humor is of the “there but for the grace of a shark costume go I” variety, some is more pointing and laughing. Naturally, it’s the former that works better, even if the characters do offer up a level of goofball behavior almost impossible not to laugh at.

Eagle vs. Shark does not have the comic oomph to launch itself from indie status to a Napoleon Dynamite level of fandom. It is, at best, a cute if slight alternative to the high-volume Evan Almighty and License to Wed crowd. C+

Rated R for language, some (nerd) sexuality and brief animated violence. Written and directed by Taika Cohen, Eagle vs Shark is an hour and 27 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Miramax Films. It is currently screening in the Boston area.