Not a fan? These are not the droids you’re looking for.
Directed by Kyle Newman
Cast: Sam Huntington, Dan Fogler, Kristen Bell
Arriving a full three years after it was shot here in New Mexico and with all the attendant timeliness of a Jennifer Wilbanks joke (oh, how quickly we forget), Fanboys finally stumbles into Albuquerque theaters. Aimed squarely at the titular demographic, the film is a genial love letter to Star Wars geekdom disguised as a mildly raunchy road movie.
The film is set in 1998 and finds four former high school pals reunited at a Halloween costume party. Eric (Sam Huntington, Jimmy Olsen in Superman Returns) is doing his best to act like an adult, taking over his father’s used car empire and forgetting his various teenage obsessions. But Windows (Jay Baruchel), Hutch (Dan Fogler) and Linus (Chris Marquette) are still happily wallowing in adolescence, discussing the finer points of comic books and dressing like Star Wars characters. Spurred on by general dissatisfaction, a madcap plan hatched back in fifth grade and the sudden bombshell that Linus is dying of cancer, the quartet decides to take one last big road trip cross-country. The destination: George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. The purpose: Steal the workprint of the soon-to-be-released Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace and watch it before anyone else.
What follows is all the usual road trip touchstones, handed down from Jack Kerouac and made forever funny by Chevy Chase. The boys suffer automotive mishaps, meet hot girls in fast cars, accidentally find themselves in scary biker bars, visit Las Vegas and get into rumbles with militant “Star Trek” nerds. (OK, so that last one has a bit of a twist to it.)
At one point in Fanboys’ rocky history, the film’s producer/distributor, Harvey Weinstein, had parts of the film reshot. The notoriously intrusive Weinstein claimed the cancer storyline was too much of a downer for a comedy. Outrage on the part of Internet fans has apparently brought the original cut back to theaters, but—truth be told—the whole “cancer” thing is a rather weak plot motivator. It involves two brief scenes, one sad face and about three minutes of runtime, leaving more room for chuckles and Darth Maul references.
The humor has (or tries to have) a distinct Judd Apatow quality. That’s evident in the poster (which shamelessly apes The 40-Year-Old Virgin), in the brief cameo work of Seth Rogen and in the film’s overall balance of sensitive/sophomoric material. The PG-13 rating, however, scotches any attempt at actual rude jokes.
To its credit, Fanboys speaks fluent geek, and it’ll likely gather a small following of rabid Star Wars lovers who will appreciate its wealth of inside jokes. Cameos by Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, Ray Park, William Shatner and Kevin Smith are cute. Seeing Ethan Suplee show up as Harry Knowles is amusing. Of course, if you aren’t the type to get excited by Billy Dee Williams cameos and if you don’t know who the hell Harry Knowles is, then Fanboys wasn’t made with you in mind.
Fanboys’ first-time filmmakers don’t give the film much in the way of polish. The threadbare budget shows, with Albuquerque and its outlying regions milked for multiple locations in the flyover states. (The Armand Hammer United World College in Las Vegas subs for Skywalker Ranch.) The cast is enthusiastic enough, but strictly small potatoes—although it’s nice to see spunky TV star Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars,” “Heroes”) add a little estrogen to this sausage party as the token female tagalong and eventual love interest.
If you’re a Star Wars fan intrigued by a film about Star Wars fans (Hell, “Star Trek” fans got their Free Enterprise, why can’t you?), you’ll probably check out Fanboys and find enough in it to admire. It’s likable, well-meaning and sprinkled with the sort of winking jokes that make crowds at Dragon*Con squeal like a Chadra-Fan reaching for juri juice in the Mos Eisley cantina. Know what I mean? ... If not, don’t bother buying a ticket.