THE SASQUATCH GANG

PG-13
Reviews

Some people actually didn't find Napoleon Dynamite dynamite. While that 2004 nerd-empowerment comedy showed commendable quirkiness and a surprisingly assured screen presence in star Jon Heder, it dipped into surrealism in less than enchanting ways and didn't have much of a point. And what with this new film billing itself as being "From the Guys That [sic] Brought You Napoleon Dynamite," comparisons are both fair and inevitable—and from my perspective, The Sasquatch Gang is the better of the two.

The overlapping "Guys" are primarily writer-director Tim Skousen, Napoleon Dynamite's first assistant director; Jeremy Coon, one of several producers on both films as well as editor of the former and co-editor of the latter; cinematographer Munn Powell; composer John Swihart, and production designer Cory Lorenzen. Whether that kind of connection will bring in fans expecting the same fractured fairy-tale quality, who knows? What they'll find is something sweeter and more naturalistic—and that's even with the shadow of Sasquatch, a.k.a. Bigfoot, who may be lurking in the woods but probably isn't, and slapsticky supporting player Justin Long's mullet-haired and mallet-headed doofus-delinquent, Ezekiel "Zerk" Wilder.

Zerk actually has as much screen time, if not more, than the nominal protagonist, young teen Gavin Gore (Jeremy Sumpter), a cute but socially stunted medieval-fantasy fan in rural/suburban Clackanomah County, Oregon (a fictional locale but a real-life place, the Clackanomah Agricultural Region of the Northern Willamette Valley). Zerk, however, remains defiantly the same throughout, a Coyote for whom life is both Road Runner and Acme, while Gavin is the one who grows a bit by the end. He has plenty of room to, what with his faux-broadsword battles in his front yard with fellow warrior wannabes Maynard (Rob Pinkston) and Hobie (Hubbel Palmer)—which annoy to no end white-trash neighbor Zerk and Zerk's buddy Lance, a.k.a. Shirts (Joey Kern).

While the talented Long overplays his cement-headed smartass, Kern hilariously underplays his part as a surfer dude with portfolio, who speaks in a soft, high-pitched, monotonal lisp that sounds like first-stage stoned even stone-cold sober. The two slacker buds devise a harebrained scheme to raise money by selling "genuine" Bigfoot-track plaster casts, and plant clues, including fake droppings, for Gavin and his friends to find. Those include by this time Sophie (Addie Land), a plain/pretty girl who shares Gavin's interest in films like Dragonslayer and Labyrinth. Soon enough, despite Gavin's foot-in-mouth cluelessness, he's soon hearing a wounded Hobie saying things like, "You'd rather go swordfight with some girl than watch The Crow with me?"

Told as a series of overlapping chapters, each devoted to one of the ensemble and introduced by a comic-book panel, the gentle comedy nails the small-town ennui that sends some kids to fantasy lands. Skousen knows and understands how misfits can find and accept one another, and he sees his fantasy geeks as no different from the town's slackers or gangsta poseurs. Though his film (originally titled The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang in a Disney homage) is pretty poorly lit and shot, Skousen as storyteller captures the language, the drag, the excesses and the simultaneously sad and wonderful friendships cementing each group. And more, he paints a bigger picture of an unhappy and disaffected white rural America, where the chance to be on the fringes of something mythical and extraordinary is a desperately needed break in the monotony. Some throwaway seconds with Shirts' dad and a dinner-table shot of his mom say more in those moments than does all of Napoleon Dynamite.