If you are reading this site, chances are you are a geek. Or a nerd. A Trekkie, Star Wars fanatic, or, God help you, a Joss Whedon fan. So you get what it’s like to look forward to something so much it consumes your life. You know what it feels like to sit in a dark theater and get excited, truly excited, about a damn logo that comes up before the movie you have been waiting months to see.
When I heard that they were making Fanboys, about a group of geeks on a road trip to break into Skywalker Ranch to see an early print of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, I was jazzed. That was a few years ago, though, and after all the bad reviews and the test screenings, the recuts and the film getting shelved for so long, it fell off my radar.
But for some reason the Weinsteins opened the movie with little fanfare, and this week it went to ten cities. I live in one of those cities.
I want to write a joyous, celebratory review of the film, but I can’t. The movie is fun and dumb and enjoyable, but a lot of jokes fall flat, the pacing feels off (no doubt reflecting the massive re-cut), and some of the character moments are lacking.
The movie starts by introducing us to two characters, Eric and Linus, who have been estranged for three years. While Eric “moved on” from his geek status to work at his father’s car dealership, Linus has retained his fanboy ways. The two aren’t all that happy with each other.
When Hutch and Windows, the other two members of the group, inform Eric that Linus has a terminal form of cancer, Eric resurrects a childhood plan for the group to see the newest Star Wars film. Along the way they try peyote, accost some Star Trek geeks and have run-ins with William Shatner, Harry Knowles (played here by Ethan Suplee), and even Kevin Smith.
For a while it looked like this movie would be released without the cancer “sub-plot,” which would have cut the heart and soul out of the entire film. In an effort to make the film less “weighty,” though, the cancer stuff has been truncated, and the film suffers for it. In general, the problems with the film lie in its pacing and its unwillingness to take its characters 100% seriously. Whole sequences feel truncated, and references to Linus’s cancer are kept to a minimum resulting in the character not really having much to do.
When they finally do confront this plot thread at the end, however, the movie seems to really work. The last few minutes of the movie hit a perfect balance between the sweet and the geeky, redeeming a lot of the film’s other flaws. The film ends up being about friendship, a theme that would have been a lot stronger if it had been better developed throughout the rest of the narrative.
So, what works? The obscure references, including a series of THX-1138 dressed guards, almost always provide nice in-jokes for fans. The movie is filled with fun Star Wars sound effects and goofy over-the-top arguments about geek minutia. Jokes about Jar Jar Binks and Harrison Ford’s Six Days, Seven Nights are hilarious in that we know better than the clueless characters.
And the last joke of the movie really says it all.
Overall, there is enough fun stuff in this movie to recommend it, but I am disappointed that it didn’t “squeeze the lemon” to a greater extent. Sometimes the movie feels a little too self-satisfied with its geekiness without bothering to be clever. As an unapologetic fanboy, it’s hard for me to settle for anything less than a ridiculously funny movie–with a heart.
This is kind of the definition of a “wait for video” film. It doesn’t look like it will go wide, either, so most people will have no choice. When you do get around to seeing it, surround yourself with some beers and some geeky friends and just have fun. That’s really what the movie is good for.
It’s nice to see movies made specifically for geeks, and it would be nicer if it was good enough to recommend without a number of caveats. I appreciate the effort and I enjoyed the movie…I think it can, and should, be done better next time.