If there is a movie made by the fans, about the fans, and for the fans, it must be “Fanboys, credited to director Kyle Newman and screenwriters Ernest Cline and Adam Goldberg. The film previewed at San Diego Comic-Con last July, and will be distributed theatrically by the Weinstein Co. on February 6, after many delays, caused by shoots and reshoots, editing and reediting, and changes of release dates.
“Fanboys” may not be the first picture in which the online community has participated actively by voicing opinions about its structure and contents, but it certainly is one of the more publicized ones. During the course of its troubled, protracted production, “Fanboys” has become a social phenom that goes beyond being just a movie. I wish it were a better movie, though, than the diffuse mess that it is.
Aiming to illuminate what makes for a cult movie and the nature of fandom, the movie deals with a group of “Star Wars” geeks who fulfill a childhood vow to break into Lucas's Skywalker Ranch and have the first peek at “Star Wars: “Episode I,” which is not due in theaters for at least another six months. Unfortunately, the movie exploits rather than explores its issues, and does so in a tired, uninteresting and unexciting way.
A period piece set in 1998, “Fanboys” is a semi-raunchy, slightly amateurish, occasionally funny, but not edgy or nerdy enough comedy with serio overtones. Ultimately, though, the film comes across as a tribute to movie love (and obsession) among youth, and uncritical homage to American pop culture as our new religion.
A clique of youngsters, all representing broad types, hit the road from Ohio to California. Eric (Sam Huntington) is afraid to tell his car-dealer-father that he wants to draw comic books instead of going into the family business. Also insecure is Hutch (Dan Fogler), who dreams of moving out of his mother's house. The socially shy Windows (Jay Baruchel) can't wait to meet the online girlfriend who goes by the name of “Rogue Leader.” Then there is the terminally ill Linus (Christopher Marquette), who may not live to see the opening of “The Phantom Menace.”
Representing the “other” gender in what's a largely male saga, the gifted and busy Kristen Bell (star of “Twilight”) makes a desirable appearance as Zoe (dressed as Leia), the girl who bails them out of a scrape before joining them along for the ride.
The amigos hit the road in Hutch's old van, customized with a nitrous oxide tank and a roof-mounted R2-D2 model. En route, they stop in Iowa, where they fight with a group of “Star Trek” fans led by a barely recognizable Seth Rogen. They then stop in Austin, Texas where “Ain't It Cool” guru Harry Knowles (Ethan Suplee of “My Name Is Earl's”) gives them a hard time before they head off to Vegas to get the blueprints of Lucas' Skywalker Ranch.
The quality of road picture depends on the relative of interest of the stops along the way and the encounters they generate. In this respect, despite the bathroom humor and loud behavior, “Fansboys” is a middling experience. In this story, the chums mistake the identity of escorts who reside in Arizona's Sin City, trip on Native American herb beneath the desert stars, accidentally walk into a gay bar, and are later thrown to jail for trying to outrun a cop.
In a manner of TV Movie of the Week, Linus' impending death hangs over the narrative, which threatens to slide into pathos and sentimentality, but fortunately does not. At its good moments, the film tries to show that the physical journey is also a moral and spiritual experience.
However, as noted, above all, “Fanboys” pays tribute to movie love, showing how and why Lucas' “Star Wars” trilogy has become such a religious-like phenom. Naturally, the film contains many references to pop culture, movies such as “Back to the Future” and “Dirty Dancing,” games like and Nintendo, and other elements. Jointly, they all serve as proof that pop culture is the only ideological glue, which unites diverse teens in a country marked by growing polarization along any number of dimensions.
Cameos from the “real” players of the sci-fi sagas, such as William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and Ray Park add juice and color to the adventure. Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes (of “Clerks” fame) make a brief, welcome appearance, and Danny McBride is irresistible as a security guard dressed in a costume out of Lucas' first film, “THX-1138.”
Lucas reportedly knew and even gave his blessing to the enterprise, allowing the use of some sound effects; light-saber whooshes accompany the logo that opens the film.
An MGM release of a Weinstein Co. presentation of a Trigger Street/Coalition Film production.
Produced by Dana Brunneti, Kevin Spacey, Matthew Perniciaro, Evan Astrowsky. Executive producers: Kevin Mann, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein.
Directed by Kyle Newman.
Screenplay: Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg, based on a story by Cline and Dan Pulick.
Camera: Lukas Ettlin.
Editor: Seth Flaum.
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh; music supervisor, Michelle Silverman.
Production designer: Corey Lorenzen.
Costume designer: Johanna Argan.
Sound: Whit Norris; supervising sound editor, Matthew Wood, Michael Kirchberger.
Running time: 90 Minutes.
Eric – Sam Huntington
Hutch – Dan Fogler
Windows – Jay Baruchel
Zoe – Kristen Bell
Linus – Christopher Marquette
With: Carrie Fisher, Allie Grant, Jaime King, Danny McBride, Jason Mewes, Ray Park, Seth Rogen, William Shatner, Kevin Smith, Ethan Suplee, Danny Trejo, Billy Dee Williams.