Jared Hess had a new comedy at Sundance, where Napoleon Dynamite premiered more than 10 years ago. This time, it’s Don Verdean, a movie so funny I kind of just want to list all the funny jokes that cracked me up, but that wouldn’t be very analytical and would spoil you for when the movie comes out.
Biblical archeologist Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell) hasn’t had a big find in a decade. When the pastor (Danny McBride) of a big church hires him to find a biblical artifact, the success goes to Don’s head and he starts promising bigger and better artifacts. With the help of an Israeli archeologist Boaz (Jemaine Clement), Don makes a hilarious mess of faith based excavating.
This movie has religious puns, slapstick and general irreverence for movie cliches. Verdean’s crew is full of pratfalls, breaking stuff everywhere they go. It’s just so irresponsible. Instead of “man gets hit in crotch,” a woman takes a sensitive hit and Amy Ryan totally sells it. The rhyme a church hymn came up with for Sodom and Gomorrah killed me.
Other characters get to be funny too. As a rival preacher, Will Forte adds weird reactions and physical moves to his foil, and goes on a ridiculous rant against breakfast cereals. It’s criminals being idiots and the typical gangster behavior doesn’t work. Setting it in the world of biblical archeology makes it seem more outrageous, but really these idiots would be funny in any situation.
Fans of Napoleon Dynamite will still recognize a sort of awkward whimsy in Don Verdean, but if that style was too niche for some audiences, Don Verdean puts more emphasis on making as many jokes as possible. In a way it could be an ‘80s high concept comedy, but then Clement wasn’t around in the ‘80s so it’s good they waited until now for him to be in the movie.