Eagle Vs Shark
(2007), the first feature by New Zealand comedian Taika Waititi, struck me as a fairly obvious knockoff of Napoleon Dynamite
, the reigning cult comedy of the day. For this second feature, Waititi has reached into his past for a story that belongs to him alone. The protagonist is an 11-year-old Maori boy (James Rolleston) living in a small coastal village, and because the year is 1984, he’s obsessed with Michael Jackson’s Thriller
. The boy’s mother died giving birth to his six-year-old brother, and their hapless father (Waititi) has been doing time in jail; suddenly he reappears in their lives, willing to play the attentive parent long enough to find some loot he buried in the backyard. Waittiti’s comic vocabulary hasn’t changed much—there’s a lot of voice-over narration illustrated with ludicrous, cartoonish tableaux—yet the kids’ genuine longing for their no-good dad elevates this above simple deadpan humor.