Eagle vs. Shark is basically Napoleon Dynamite, three years too late. The New Zealand film has the same love for the awkward, the same penchant for goofy but bone-dry characters, the same fetish with the ’80s. It’s got cutesy stop animation and a twee soundtrack. The indie film playbook is cracked at the spine. The only thing saving the project as a whole from blending into the genre is its Kiwi twist — the adorable accents, the beautiful greenery standing in for Napoleon’s rural Idaho.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough to save the film from its biggest flaw: the central relationship between Lily (Loren Horsley) and Jarrod (played perfectly by Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement). Lily is a mousy little specimen, ignored by her co-workers at Meaty Burger and, initially, by Jarrod, a skulking and hopelessly geeky brute who frequents the fast-food joint. But she is profoundly in love with him. Even as he rebuffs her overtures, even as she takes him back to his hometown to exact revenge against the Samoan bully who regularly pulverized him in school 10 years earlier, even as he dumps her, stranding her in his house with his family, far from home.
Though Clement’s portrayal of Jarrod — surly, clumsy, thick as a brick — is almost endlessly funny, as a character he has no redeeming qualities. So what’s supposed to be a relationship story (even one that acknowledges the antagonism of that relationship in its title) never really seems believable.
None of this, though, makes the film unwatchable. Clement and Horsley are brilliant, and the careful characterizations by supporting actors are occasionally hysterical. There’s a great twist at the end. And the bonus features supplement the film nicely, especially for those who’ve had enough with the affected, straight-faced irony so prevalent in recent indie culture. Seeing Clement — sober and unflappable — break into a sincere laugh in the outtakes is surprisingly rewarding. As is the commentary by director Taika Waititi, which is genuine and charmingly unprofessional.
Taken together, the features and the bonus material provide a well-rounded story. Not so, separately.