Starring: Sam Huntington, Chris
Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell. Rated PG-13.
The story of director Kyle
Newman’s struggle to bring his Star Wars-inspired
comedy Fanboys to the screen is almost
as compelling as the Rebel Alliance’s bid to derail the Evil Empire.
Newman, whose low-budget tale of
four friends traveling cross-country in hopes of catching an unauthorized sneak
preview of The Phantom Menace was
written roughly a decade ago, when such an idea might have seemed worthwhile,
encountered a Darth Vader all his own in studio head Harvey Weinstein, who
gutted the movie’s script and delayed its release for years.
Rather than sheepishly accepting
the fate of his second feature, as many young, easily bullied directors might
have done, Newman aired his grievances in a series of scalding interviews.
Before long, a grassroots campaign waged by Web-savvy Star Wars aficionados was underfoot,
denouncing “Darth Weinstein”
and demanding a restoration of Fanboys
to its original form, complete with a sobering subplot about a fan afflicted
with terminal cancer.
The Weinstein Company bowed to the
pressure and now, ten years after Menace
first stormed into theaters, comes Newman’s affectionate chronicle of the
hysteria that preceded its release.
Newman has said that the
theatrical cut of Fanboys, which
incorporates some of Weinstein’s changes but remains mostly true to the spirit of
Ernest Cline and Adam Goldberg’s script, is the best he’s seen. If that’s true,
I fail to see what the fuss was about. There are plenty of no-budget movies worthy
of grassroots movements. Fanboys, which
comes with a built-in fan base only by virtue of its connection to a universe
George Lucas created, isn’t one of them.
Ironically, the subplot Newman
fought tooth and nail to preserve represents one of the movie’s most egregious
missteps. Linus (Chris Marquette), who has long dreamed of crashing the Lucas
Ranch, is dying of cancer, giving his friends (fellow Ohio-based Star Wars dweebs
played by Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler and Sam
Huntington) the perfect excuse for a road trip. What follows is a litany of
well-worn misadventures – awkward run-ins at a gay biker bar, an evening of
mescaline-induced hallucinations – as well as a showdown with a gang of
nerdier-than-thou Trekkies led by Seth Rogen. But cancer?
There is nothing here plausible
enough to lend life-or-death urgency to such a silly quest, much less something
as scattershot and embarrassingly juvenile as Fanboys. Linus’ cancer is touched
on only in brief, leaving his
pals – particularly Fogler, a deft, high-energy physical comedian who will
inevitably draw comparisons to Jack Black – to mug and monkey around for the
camera. The results are tame and routinely unfunny, though there are noteworthy
cameos by the likes of Carrie Fisher, Kevin Smith, Billy Dee Williams and even
the voice of Lucas himself.