Thursday, February 12, 2009

Release Your Inner Fanboy

In this riotous new road movie from producer Kevin Spacey, a group of friends who are avid Star Wars fans travel west to see the Holly Grail of all sci-fi movies, Star Wars: Episode I. The year is 1999 and for these death star dorks, the Star Wars films are more than just movies; they are a way of life. So, after one of the group takes sick it is nothing short of a moral imperative that the friends break into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to watch the seminal sci-fi picture together before its release. Enlisting the help of an estranged friend, who has traded in his Darth Vader mask for a proper day job, the adventure lays way to some extremely funny situations, including an outrageous brawl with some hard-core Trekkies.

Even geeks enjoy poking fun at geeks. And they really know how. In Fanboys, opening today, several real Star Wars geeks (writer, director and producer) take affectionate and pointed shots at their own kind. With the aid of some major geek heroes (William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Kevin Smith, Billy Dee Williams) the self-aware mockery is often funny. It’s 1998. For Star Wars fanboys, it’s been 15 years in hell, waiting, waiting, waiting, for the long promised Star Wars prequels. The last of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi, came out in 1983. In 1993, Star Wars creator George Lucas revealed that a prequel trilogy was actually going to happen. Now, at last, the end is in sight: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is set to open May 19, 1999. But for small town Ohio buddies and dedicated geeks Eric (Sam Huntington), Hutch (Dan Fogler) and Windows (Jay Baruchel), there is a disturbance in the Force. A real one. Their fellow fanboy, Linus (Chris Marquette), has cancer. He may not live to May 1999. Waiting another year is not an option.  These four friends, now in their 20s, grew up on Star Wars. To them, planet Tatooine is more real than their hometown. Emperor Palpatine, not President Clinton, is the ruler. For Linus to die without seeing the new movie would add insult to tragedy. So the friends climb into Hutch’s beat-up Star Wars van for an insane cross-country road trip, geek style. They know their plan is absurd: drive to northern California and break into Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and steal an early cut of The Phantom Menace. But this is their Death Star, the impossible challenge they have to take on out of love for Linus. They may be nerds ill-equipped for the real world, but these fanboys have a guardian den mother in practical, attractive gal pal Zoe (Kristen Bell). She’s going along to keep them out of trouble and because, well, she’s a bit of a fangirl herself (and she's in love with Windows). Their trip takes them, among other places, to Riverside, Iowa, “future birthplace” of Star Trek Capt. James T. Kirk, where they have a geek-to-geek run-in with a team of Star Trek fanboys (“We’re Trekkers, not Trekkies”). The Trek leader (Seth Rogen, who plays three cameos in the movie) is dressed in full Star Fleet admiral regalia as tour guide of Riverside’s Capt. Kirk statue. Another stop is in Austin (though not actually filmed there) where they meet up with fanboy supreme Harry Knowles (Ethan Suplee), creator of Harry is rumored to have the secret plans to get into Skywalker Ranch. Along the way Zoe and the boys also cross paths with Shatner (as himself), Fisher, Billy Dee Williams (as a judge with an inside-joke name) and Clerks characters Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith). Co-screenwriters Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg do a great job of blending outrageous humor with tongue-in-cheek and witty humor from the very first scene until the last, although there are a few scenes that tend to fall flat with recycled and forced humor. In one particularly outrageously funny scene, the guys accidentally end up in gay bar and strip in front of patrons. There’s no denying that avid fans of Star Wars will get a kick out of hearing all of the in-jokes about Star Wars and seeing certain special cameos, none of which will be spoiled here. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Star Wars aficionado confronts a Trekkie to compare Star Wars to Star Trek, now’s your chance. Essentially, Fanboys feels like a tamer version of Sex Drive. The actors seem to be having a great time in their roles, so their comic energy and enthusiasm often radiates from the screen. It manages to be an outrageously zany, razor sharp comedy and a must-see for Star Wars fans young and old. If you're among those Star Wars fans, then let the LAUGHTER be with you! A hilarious 4 on my "Go See"scale.

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