Sunday, March 15, 2009


Star Wars is the dominant myth of the 20th century, and no matter how you may feel about what it eventually became (trust me, I share many of the same sentiments), no other single piece of fiction has permeated popular culture to such a degree. From references as broad as minutes-long conversations about the trilogy in Clerks and wholesale comic recreations in Robot Chicken and Family Guy to offhand references to the "Wookiee prisoner trick" in Lost and John Williams' opening fanfare in Ferris Bueller's Day Off to more uses of the terms "Jedi" and "The Force" in film and television than could begin to be counted, the saga has produced a language, mythology, and culture unto itself that even The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the combined superheroes of DC and Marvel bow in reverence to.

Fanboys is the ultimate distillation of this nerd culture, a ninety-minute orgy of Star Wars references (with lip service also paid to Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Willow, Terminator, Batman, James Bond, Internet culture, comic books, video games, and lots more I'm forgetting), oozing with love for George Lucas's creation and plenty of Star Wars actor cameos, making it probably the most purely geek-friendly theatrical release of the decade. What's the catch? Well, unfortunately, it's a big one: I just wish the damn thing were funnier.

It's 1998, and Linus, Eric, Hutch, and Windows are a formerly close-knit geek brigade of Star Wars hardcores, divided by time and work, who reunite when they find out that Linus has terminal cancer and six months to live - not enough time to live to the premiere of The Phantom Menace. So the boys embark on a cross-country road trip to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal an advance print of the film. It sounds potentially morbid, but the movie doesn't dwell too much on the cancer, instead giving way almost immediately to a cavalcade of geek references and a lot of standard road trip humor.

Therein lies part of the problem: in exchange for getting to use Star Wars iconography and sound & music clips and getting to film in Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas's condition was that the movie be rated PG-13, which kind of cannibalizes road trip humor. Sure, they visit a strip club and run into some hookers in Vegas and accidentally do some drugs, but it's a PG-13 strip club, and they're PG-13 hookers and PG-13 drugs. I'm not saying a movie has to be rated R to be funny, but it certainly helps with this particular genre. The movie's comedy just lacks the bite that has become increasingly standard in this Judd Apatow age, and while I let out at least a dozen chuckles and a handful of "Ha!"s, there wasn't a single explosion of gut laughter in the entire film.

In strict adherence with the conventions the genre (road trip, I mean, not geek), the main characters all have their personal crises they confront during the course of the adventure. Poor Linus's cancer makes his obvious, while Windows (played by Jay Baruchel, this movie's Apatow crew ambassador) has a crush on the girl who works at the comic book store (played by Kristen Bell), Eric confronts his decision to abandon his dream of writing comic books for a life of corporate monotony, and Hutch is the wacky fat guy (and thus doesn't need a subplot). It's all quite standard, and arguably a touch boring because it's pretty obvious how each story is going to resolve itself.

And I like Kristen Bell, but I thought it was more than a little bit of a cop-out that they had the George Lucas-loving comic book geek girl who can name every Bond villain and likes The Legend of Zelda be a toned, tanned, big-titted mega-hot uber-babe. I mean, I wish that all girls with those interests that looked like that too, that'd be real nice, and I understand that movies feature attractive women, but they could have found someone who looks at least a little more believable as a geek girl, at least someone a little mousy-looking or something. I mean I know it's a fantasy but come on. And yes, Kristen Bell does wear the Princess Leia gold bikini, but is actually seen wearing it in wide shots for no more than fifteen seconds of screen time, so it's not really grounds to watch the movie if you otherwise wouldn't.

But perhaps above all else it's precisely because Star Wars has become so ubiquitous in pop culture that the mere presence of hundreds of Star Wars references didn't really move me that much. Don't get me wrong, I love Star Wars - and if you didn't know that, hi, my name's Tim, and I love Star Wars, welcome to your first time reading my blog - and I appreciate references to it in movies and TV shows, but the underlying script has to be up to par. Star Wars opening story crawls have been parodied before, Luke-Leia incest jokes have been made before, Han Solo and Yoda and Darth Vader and R2-D2 have been referenced hundreds of times, and whole conversations about the trilogy are old hat in this post-Clerks age.

I have no doubt that I would've absolutely loved this movie if I'd seen it when I was eleven years old (and maybe it would've even seemed edgy and bawdy then), and to some extent I appreciate its existence because, hell, I'm a geek and I understand obsessing over Star Wars and holding entire conversations entirely in arcane references and movie quotes. And I'm sure some kids out there will love it as much as I would have (that is, assuming little kids these days like Star Wars, I'm old and I don't even fuckin' know anymore). But when it comes right down to it the comedy in this comedy is pretty lukewarm (Star Wars pun, someone execute me).

2 Stars out of 5

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