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Fanboys: These aren’t the laughs you’re looking for

by Glen Baity

Ten years ago was the last time anyone with any sense was excited, without caution, about a new Star Wars movie. I still remember the anticipation that bubbled up slowly between 1998 and Episode One’s eventual release in May of 1999. Like many, I devoured any information about the movie I could find, as did all my dorky friends. We dissected the trailer frame by frame, trying to glean tantalizing plot points. We didn’t know it then, but the anticipation was the most fun we’d have. Fanboys takes place in those heady prerelease months. The misguided story, set just after Halloween in 1998, follows four friends scheming to break into Skywalker Ranch to steal a work print of Episode One, hoping to get their Jar Jar on before the rest of the nerd universe. These guys are fanboys, a term that refers to fans who are beyond rabid, who collect every piece of flotsam associated with their chosen movie, TV series or comic book character, and who gladly look past any flaws to protect their sacred cow against all detractors, with force if necessary. In short, fanboys make enjoyment a martial art. As you might expect, Star Wars fanboys have had a particularly rough go of it in the past decade, so in a way it’s nice to revisit a simpler time, before anyone had ever heard of a midi-chlorian.

Eric (Sam Huntington) is the only one of the group who sold out his fanboy cred by getting a real job after high school, and his buddy Linus (Chris Marquette) has never forgiven him for it. Also, Linus has cancer. Don’t worry, though: It’s convenient movie cancer, the kind that doesn’t alter his physical appearance in any way, gives him plenty of energy and causes him only existential pain. Rest assured, it’ll only be mentioned when the plot requires it.

Also along for the cross-country ride are comic-store owner Windows (Jay Baruchel) and resident vulgarian Hutch (Dan Fogler), a cut-rate Jack Black who, as usual, wears out his welcome within five minutes. Fogler has been popping up in awful movies like Balls of Fury and Good Luck Chuck over the past few years peddling the same tired, faux-edgy shtick, and he doesn’t let up here. The man is just dreadfully unfunny. The rest of the central cast is forgettable, with the exception of the always-pleasant Kristen Bell, who tags along for part of the road trip and participates in a pointless relationship subplot with one of the boys. Not that the subplot distracts from a great story or anything. Fanboys is a bythe-numbers road trip distinguishable only by the number of not-very-surprising cameos (Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, William Shatner and many more). There are several obvious nods to the late ’90s — Chumbawamba! Dial-up internet! — but the bulk of the humor is designed to appeal solely to Star Wars fans. So if you don’t get, for instance, why Hutch has a “SLAVE2” vanity plate for his van, prepare to spend a lot of time scratching your head. The problem is that if you are a Star Wars fan, you’ve heard variations on these riffs a billion times in Kevin Smith movies, online shorts like “George Lucas In Love” and “Troopers” and of course, with your own geek friends. Fanboys has in-jokes aplenty, though they’re not particularly clever. Familiar catchphrases like “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” are sprinkled throughout the script, but who hasn’t heard that a million times by now? Finally, because Fanboys has Lucasfilm’s blessing — the climactic scenes were filmed at the real Skywalker Ranch — it barely touches the biggest joke of all: The Phantom Menace was a disaster, a movie even fanboys like me have a nearimpossible time defending. When one of the characters gets to see the movie and doesn’t burst into tears of bitter disappointment, you’ll realize that Fanboys isn’t really tuned in to the Star Wars fan of the post-prequel era. Chuck this one in the Sarlacc pit and move on.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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