A film review by Craig J. Koban
2009, PG-13, 90 mins.
2009, PG-13, 90 mins.
Eric: Sam Huntington / Hutch: Dan Fogler / Windows: Jay
Baruchel / Zoe: Kristen Bell / Linus: Christopher Marquette
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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?"