Fanboys, a spoof of and tribute to hardcore Star Wars fans, clearly comes from one of their own. Lines are quoted, references are made, and knowledge of Star Wars is assumed: This movie is for the fanbase, one of the few that is large enough to support a comedy that never steps out of the Wars nerd zone.
The film is set in what must now be looked at as a golden age of fanboy anticipation: 1998, with the 1999 release of Episode I drawing ever tantalizingly closer. But not close enough: Lifelong friends and Star Wars megafans Linus (Chris Marquette), Windows (Jay Baruchel), Hutch (Dan Fogler), and somewhat estranged (which is to say somewhat more socialized) Eric (Sam Huntington) hatch a plan to drive across the country, break into Skywalker Ranch, and see an early cut of the prequel. They need to do this because Linus has movie cancer, which is just as fatal as regular cancer but much less messy, never prohibiting him from, say, embarking on a zany cross-country road trip. Article continues below
Medical liberties aside, it's a good hook, playing on what I imagine (and can confirm firsthand) is a very real nerd fear: if I die tomorrow, I'll never see next summer's nerd-baiting blockbusters. Despite its obvious utility -- without it, the movie would be about feelings of entitlement raised to criminal levels -- the cancer subplot was the subject of an epic behind-the-scenes battle. Executive producer Harvey Weinstein wanted it out, the filmmakers and some internet nerds wanted it in. Eventually a sort of compromise was reached: The cancer would remain, but the movie would be pushed back dozens of times and then dumped into a piddling number of theaters, virtually forgotten. Not a bad deal, as this is what happens to approximately 80 percent of the movies Weinstein releases.
This version of Fanboys, an amalgam of director Kyle Newman's original cut with some extra material shot without him, dispenses cameos from the geek world (original Star Wars cast!) and comedy world (Judd Apatow repertory players!) with a fan's mischievous amusement -- and it approximates a fan's filmmaking skills, too. It has incidental pleasures and a good heart, but not enough invention. Yes, it's funny enough for the fanboys to engage in a fierce rivalry with Star Trek devotees, but Newman doesn't escalate the gag: The characters yell at each other and fight and run away, even ignoring a clear opportunity for a red-shirts joke.
Beyond comedic nitpicking, though, the movie whiffs on depicting fan culture; it gets the specs, rattling off Lucas-world trivia, dialogue, and sight gags aplenty (love the THX-1138 and Willow shout-outs), but not the specifics that would make the caricatures into humans. Sam Huntington and Chris Marquette seem nice enough, but they don't convey the inner fire of true obsessives -- the perverse mixture of love and obligation (nor do they find another take, like geeky desperation or exhaustion). Dan Fogler tries to light one up, playing the most gregarious of the nerds with manic energy, but his second-rate Jack Black imitation falls flat, stopping scenes cold for long, mildly profane rants punctuated with movie quotes. Jay Baruchel, an Apatow veteran, fares best -- at least among the men -- maybe because he's got the body and vocal language of a true geek, but none of the four friends really connect. Their love and obligation to each other feels limited, too.
The screenplay fills in countless gaps by having characters remind each other how long they've known each other or held on to their Star Wars dreams: since the tenth grade, since the fifth grade, since the first grade. In its geek knowledge and supposed personal history, the movie clearly aspires to the levels of early Kevin Smith (the writer-director himself turns up for a cameo, and one actor even imitates Jason Lee's delivery of a particular repeated expletive in Mallrats), but it's not playful or mangy enough; the characters' arguments about whether Luke is really in love with Leia or whether Harrison Ford is the world's greatest actor lay their cards on the table immediately instead of developing the ridiculously logical points of view. The chase-heavy end product more resembles Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and still without Smith's enjoyably shameless gag-mongering.
A little bit of zing comes from Zoe (Kristen Bell), a sarcastic female nerd ensnared in the mission; Bell has a way with prickly intelligence that requires far less reference-dropping than her less-natural dude colleagues. But her role is marginalized, and with it a major window into the subculture. Ultimately Fanboys becomes just another rowdy boys' party, rather than an insightful celebration.