A film review by Craig J. Koban


2009, PG-13, 90 mins.


Eric: Sam Huntington / Hutch: Dan Fogler / Windows: Jay Baruchel / Zoe: Kristen Bell / Linus: Christopher Marquette

Directed by Kyle Newman / Written by Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg

Looking back now at the Spring of 1999 – at least from the fairly well adjusted and mature mindset of a 34-year-old adult – and pondering my decision then to wait in the pouring rain for nearly eight hours for a chance to get tickets to STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE…well…hindsight has not been kind to me.  

To be fair, it was a beyond ridiculous endeavor, but many out there that scorned both myself and the hundreds of other fanboys that parked (and even camped) themselves out on the sometimes unforgiving streets of Saskatoon for a chance to secure tickets for a film that we had then been waiting 17 years for…there’s just a communal anticipation that will never be replicated.  Yes, we were ridiculed beyond belief – often by passing motorists – for the sake of placing STAR WARS up on the high and lofty alter of pop culture worship, but sometimes people socially suffer for their passions. 

Enter FANBOYS, which serves, I think, to be a loving tribute to the legions of diehard Lucasites that clamor for just about anything that involves everyone’s favourite galaxy that's far, far away.  First time director Kyle Newman and a Stormtropper squadron of screenwriters (apparently, four worked on the script) really show their passion for the STAR WARS saga (and for other movie pop culture) throughout FANBOYS, and their true motives are to celebrate the lifestyle and often-fanatical culture of movie geeks.  On those levels, the film put a frequent smile on my face, seeing as I was – and perhaps still am – and member of such a mocked tribe of devotees.  This is a film that has no pretensions of be accessible to all filmgoers: if you have never seen a STAR WARS film, then FANBOYS will feel about as alien territory as a Mos Eisley spaceport bar.  For the rest of the Han Solo-worshipping acolytes out there, then the film will most likely amuse. 

However, FANBOYS only modestly amuses: Yes, the film is utterly ripe with STAR WARS references through and through, which are worth a few chuckles.  Yes, there is also a smorgasbord of famous celebrity cameos that gets some laughs (although one in particular involving a decided non-STAR WARS personality scores huge guffaws).  Yes, the characters in the film feel like plausible fanboys, even if they are inordinately presented as caricatures, making it hard for us to really invest in them (and, for that matter, a plot thread involving the health of one person).   However,  FANBOYS never achieves a reasonable level of comedic lift-off: it places too much emphasis on rejoicing these extreme and wildly obsessive misfits without poking some much needed fun at them (which they certainly deserve), thus eliminating any level of hilarious social satire that could have erupted on the screen.  That, and the film is basically nothing more than a regurgitated road picture that rehashes a lot of wild, garden-variety antics and misadventures that we have seen so many times before and in better comedies. 

On a simple level, FANBOYS is still pretty innocuous, but mostly ham-infested and way too broad.  It’s also a period comedy, in so far that it takes place in the Midwest during the Halloween of 1998 and we see a series of geeky high scholars that have long since graduated and are trying to carve out a niche for themselves in the real world.  THE PHANTOM MENACE – reaching its zenith of astounding levels of salivating anticipation – is an enormously long six months away, which is a decade in nerd years.  We meet a group of Ohio twenty-somethings that – much like myself in ’98 - were struggling with the concept of waiting several months to see the fourth film in Lucas’ saga.  The friends, fake lightsabers in hand, are Eric (Sam Huntington), Linus (Chris Marquette), Hutch (Dan Fogler), and Windows (Jay Baruchel) and – by the beard of Obi-Wan Kenobi! – a super hot babe of a film geek, Zoe (Kristin Bell, who just may be the most attractive movie/comic book/video game dork in movie history).  

This quintet of BBFs all have their respective differences: Windows is a shy, timid, and hopeless social introvert that desperately wants to see the woman of his dreams that he met in a Jedi chat room (which may not be a good sign); Hutch is still a jobless slacker into his early twenties that lives in his mom’s tricked out garage…or…”carriage house” as he calls it (he’s also the most militant WARS defender);  Zoe works at a local comic shop and is certainly the type of dream woman that any fanboy would want, at least if they could take their eyes of their comic book pages to stare at her with interest; Eric seems to be the most responsible one of the pact, slaving away at his father’s car dealership in hopes of securing his future (although his real passion is drawing comics); and finally Linus is the one with the most baggage, seeing as he is suffering from cancer (more on that point later). 

Before you can say “Punch it, Chewie!” the gang has decided to engage a borderline suicidal mission to – yes – travel all the way across the country to Marin County where they will break into Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in hopes of stealing and later watching a work print of THE PHANTOM MENACE (okay, this sounds like science fiction, but remember: this was long before ubiquitous leaks of films online to the general public).  Now, anyone with a level head would realize the absolute futility of their plan: Lucas, being the single most powerful and financially secure independent filmmakers in the world, would no doubt have Skywalker Ranch as tightly secured as the Death Star, notwithstanding the fact that the flannel-shirted one would, under any normal circumstance, have the zealot-like fans arrested within seconds of driving within a hundred feet of his mansion.  But, alas, in this film’s warped universe, the plan has reasonable chances of success, and the story then revolves around the misadventures of the group on their long trek, which includes pit stops in Iowa (the birthplace of Captain Kirk), Austin Texas (where AIN’T IN COOL NEWS’ Harry Knowles lives) and finally Las Vegas, where they get some much needed assistance from a most unlikely ally. 

On a positive, FANBOYS does have some humorous beats and one of its sharpest and most acerbic involves the group stopping to terrorize a bunch of, as they call them, “Kirk-loving, Spock-sucking” Trekkies (they also go out of their way to label them Trekkies, which drives them batty seeing as they now prefer the moniker Trekkers) in Iowa.  While there they encounter a rabid Trekker (played by a fairly unrecognizable Seth Rogen) as a Klingon speaking purveyor of all things Gene Roddenberry (Rogen also hits strong comic notes later in the film as a Las Vegas pimp that just happens to be a STAR WARS fan).  What’s interesting here is the filmmakers’ ironic depiction of both sets of fans: FANBOYS paints STAR WARRIORS as the cool, 1950’s greasy rebels that are tough and rugged and Trekkers as the mawkishly virginal and completely dweeby.  Hmmm…the Lucas fans – at least in the film – should look in the mirror before throwing out such labels. 

As stated, the film also has wall-to-wall celebrity cameos, some which work to good effect, whereas some are borderline embarrassing (such as, in one instance, Billy Dee Williams showing up for a throwaway role of a lawyer in what is most likely a much needed paycheck for him).  Carrie Fisher (another WARS alumni) shows up at one point as a doctor, Ethan Suplee shows up portraying Harry Knowles (which begs the question as to why the real Knowles was curiously unavailable) who provides the group with a Deep Throat-esque source that will provide them with everything they’ll need to break into Skywalker Ranch.  That “source” is revealed in the single best cameo, William Shatner, who once again shows his cheeky irreverence with his own legendary image (that, and that he’s a really good sport to be in a STAR WARS-centric film).  When one of the boys asks him how he could possible score the blueprints to Lucas' home, Shatner perfectly deadpans, “I’m William Shatner.  I can score anything I want.”  Classic Shatner, folks.

There are also a few other good cameos, especially by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, who are also really good sports for they way they lampoon their images in one side-splitting, 30 second appearance, and the great Danny McBride has a fairly hilarious bit as the chief of Skywalker Ranch’s security.  When his officers catch the fanboys in Lucas’ office it leads to an amusing standoff where each party threatens to destroy a vital prop from the STAR WARS films to hold off the other (funny, but no one bats an eye when Zoe threatens to light an Ewok prop on fire).  The only cameo missing is from Lucas himself (who apparently gave his blessing to the film after seeing a rough cut).  If anything, Lucas comes off as the most open-minded chap for allowing so many WARS references in the film, whereas Paramount (which owns the STAR TREK property) would not allow specific visual props from STAR TREK to be shown (the costumes the Trekkers wear are cheap knockoffs).  

There are also some decent chuckles which emerge in some highly ironic moments, like when the group in the van are insisting that Harrison Ford is the "greatest actor working in movies" and that he has never, ever made a bad film (the van then passes a billboard for SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS).  There is also a giggle inducing moment when Rogen’s Las Vegas pimp shows off his Jar Jar Binks tattoo to the fanboys, adamant that the character will “rule” in the not-yet-released PHANTOM MENACE.  I also laughed at one moment when the group is raiding a prop shop at Skywalker Ranch and everyone is in a state of euphoric glee looking at all of the heirlooms, but Windows tries to get the groups’ attention when he finds the spell book and wand from WILLOW, which no one cares about (that film was a well-publicized Lucas-produced flop). 

In the long run, though, the real problem with FANBOYS is that it’s not knee-slappingly funny enough.  The film follows the path-most-traveled approach of the road movie genre and makes unnecessary detours in too many routine and unfunny scenes (like the group unwittingly ending up in a gay bar, or an awkward rendezvous with some high maintenance Vegas hookers, and so forth).  The film also uses a considerable amount of STAR WARS sound effects throughout, which although initially funny, gets tiresome and desperately repetitive very quickly.  Furthermore, the tacked-on romantic subplot involving Windows and Zoe never germinates to any successful fruition.  And, to be fair, I never once believed that an endlessly attractive girl like Zoe would ever have any issues getting any man she wanted, nor would she have problems seducing any of the other fanboys (which she seems to have).  Bell’s appearance in the film essentially fulfills every movie geek’s masturbatory fantasy character:  She loves comics, is able to quote CLASH OF THE TITANS verbatim, and has rapped every LEGEND OF ZELDA game ever released.  That, and she looks incredible in a Princess Leia slave costume.  This is the coolest hot girl on earth.

One of the film’s real red herrings is its inane cancer subplot, which begs one moral question: Is a movie worth risking your cancer-stricken friend’s life over?  According the warped mindsets of the film’s characters…a resounding yes.  The cancer angle here never once creates any dramatic plausibility and seems hastily added to the film’s script more for convenience purposes.  You see, the group decides to go on their mission so that Linus can see PHANTOM MENACE before he dies.  Yup.  Sure.  Uh Huh.  They obviously never postulate that instead of seeing a work print of the film before he perishes that Linus and the gang would, under normal circumstance, see the walls of a jail cell first.  Even worse is the fact that Linus appears to be the most healthy-looking cancer sufferer in movie history. 

To be reasonable to FANBOYS, the film was treated like smelly Bantha fodder by the Weinstein Company, its distributor.  Originally set to be released way, way back in 2007, the film went through a series of re-shoots and re-edits, which only fuelled the well publicized controversy that the Weinstein’s insisted that the cancer subplot be removed altogether (which, if the final product speaks to anything, feels like a valid point).  After much release jockeying and much bad press, the studio decided to move the release to January of 2008…then to April…then to September…and was finally unceremoniously released with virtually no advertising in February of this year in next to no cinemas.  Nonetheless – and controversy aside – FANBOYS is a moderately droll, but ultimately disappointing and cheaply disposable, comedic effort.  All while watching it I was reminded of a great 1997 documentary, TREKKIES, which found a delicate balance between mocking Trek aficionados and respecting them.  FANBOYS would have perhaps worked much better as a documentary about extreme STAR WARS nuts, but instead it engages in a bit too much narrow-minded hero worship of its devotees.  Yes, these fairly amiable oddballs are feverously knowledgeable about Lucas’ universe, but the film inopportunely fails to point a sardonic, finger wag of shame at them. 

At least some of the characters - at the film's conclusion and on the night of PHANTOM MENACE's release - have a moment of self-actualization when they ask one another, "Gee, what if it's not very good?" 

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