Cons: It's a standard movie in which the term "hilarity ensues" is applied ironically
The Bottom Line: The Force is not with this one!... Sorry.
The most impressive thing about Fanboys is that writers Ernest Cline, Adam Goldberg, and Dan Pulick managed to wait until the very last line to make the inevitable joke about what a clunker Star Wars Episode 1 was. When they finally reach it, you can almost hear the three of them emit a sigh of relief. You could tell they had been holding it in throughout the entirety of Fanboys.
Fanboys is director Kyle Newman's tribute to fictional space geekdom. While it is about Star Wars fans, there will be plenty for other geeks to appreciate. Trekkies are poked fun at, but William Shatner makes a cameo to offset the jabs. Star Wars vets Billy Dee Williams (Lando), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), and Ray Park (Darth Maul) are all game to make fun of themselves. Geek gods Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes have brief cameos too. There is so much fanboyish devotion and geekiness packed into Fanboys that I began to think the name of Kristen Bell's character, Zoe, was a winking acknowledgement to Firefly - at which point I crossed my fingers for the slim odds of a stop-in by Nathan Fillion or Summer Glau. (Never tell me the odds.) I was disappointed. It makes perfect sense, however, because Fanboys is set in 1998, years before Browncoats would grace the sci-fi fanboy landscape in 2002.
Some years ago, indie film hero Vincent Gallo wrote, produced, directed, and starred in the movie Buffalo 66. He meant it as a love letter to his hometown of Buffalo, New York. But the idea of Buffalo 66 looking like a love letter is absurd when you consider the plot: A newly released prisoner decides to track down and kill the kicker who cost him a large sum of money by missing the game-winning field goal kick in the Super Bowl for the Bills. This is certainly not an unusual sentiment among area residents - lots of Buffalonians have fantasized about shooting Scott Norwood. But this is hardly the plot you would expect from a supposed love letter. Fanboys is the millennial decade's Buffalo 66 - an intended love letter to geek devotion that backfires. Newman has his intentions straighter than Gallo did, and I give him credit for that. But the old saying holds true very constantly: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Upon the theatrical release of Fanboys in 2008, Roger Ebert wrote one of his most famously damning one-star reviews. Ebert is a passionate critic who is a delightful read when he unleashes his reserve supply of venom. His body slams against Fanboys, however, were unusual because so many of them were aimed less at the movie and more at the fanboys Newman was mocking in his movie. The Star Warians, Trekkies, Browncoats, X-Philes, and fanboy bases of many others banded together and rightfully bashed Ebert, humiliating him and forcing an apology in the Chicago Sun-Times. But in the great critic's defense, his written beating wasn't that much more insulting than Fanboys. A movie called Fanboys, written and directed by fanboys for fanboys should break the cliches and and show audiences how and why devotion to certain series often inspires the most rabid adherents to greater heights. This is ultimately achieved in Fanboys, but the journey there is grueling. Fanboys is in fact in contention for the worst movie of the decade, alongside Jeepers Creepers II and Not Another Teen Movie.
Fanboys tries to use the benefit of hindsight to bring about its purported hilarity. It's funny NOW that Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was once an event people anticipated as they did the millennium. Fanboys tries to use this knowledge for a large bulk of its jokes. One character who has a tattoo of Jar Jar Binks on his back quips that "That guy is gonna be the (s-word)!" These jokes wouldn't have been funny back in 1998, when all we had were a handful of trailers and what everyone knew about The Phantom Menace was only hearsay. But this movie was released 10 years later, in 2008, and I watched it in 2010, when people seem to have a verbal tick which makes them mention how much the movie sucked whenever the subject is even remotely broached. (I liked it well enough myself, for the record, but still found it far inferior to all the others, both originals and prequels.) All of the jokes about the comparatively poor quality of The Phantom Menace have been milked dry. It just isn't funny anymore.
The plot has a sweet side. The lead character, Eric, runs into his old friends Hutch, Windows, Linus, and Zoe at a Halloween party. All of them grew up as rabid Star Warians. Eric has grown up and matured - his Halloween costume is that of a car salesman because he went to the party straight from work. He doesn't enjoy his job, but the bottom line is he is far ahead of his old friends in the game of life. We learn nothing about the current lifestyle of Zoe, but Windows, Hutch, and Linus exemplify all the negative stereotypes Roger Ebert had in mind when he wrote his review. Living in their folks' garage, no aim in life, debating the kiss between Luke and Leia - this pretty much sums up the three of them. It's bad enough that Eric is the one who is condescended to for his maturing. Anyway, Eric is welcomed back into the fold when he decides to accompany the other three to Skywalker Ranch so they can steal the negatives for Linus, who won't live long enough to see the premier. Can somebody say "road trip?"
Hilarity, as it is often fated to do in situations like this, ensues. There are virgin jokes and geek jokes and bathroom jokes. That may be the unholy trinity of unfunny in road movies in which hilarity ensues. Sometimes the three of them even combine like Voltron in really unfunny scenes which result in hearty facepalms. In one scene early on, Hutch takes the wheel for a detour into Riverside, Iowa, the officially designated hometown of Star Trek's Captain James Kirk. You can probably see how hilarity will ensue in this scene. As if to drill the point in, the Trekkies at the monument return for revenge in Las Vegas. Were the writers really that stuck for ideas? Hutch looks like the stereotypical fat geek, and Windows looks and talks like the stereotypical geek with glasses. The writers, on two occasions, try to make fun of his voice - he repeatedly begins shouting "I'm a pedophile!" when he meets his internet soulmate, then when a hot girl flashes him, he repeatedly shouts "Oh my god!" for the next 100 miles. This is annoying, not funny. (Especially for someone who was mocked for his funny voice when he was in grammar school.)
Along the way, we get to see the gay biker bar, the hot women in convertibles who find a creative way to say no to the sign that says FLASH IF YOU LOVE WOOKIES, the poor reason for trying to run from the police car who just wanted to ticket them for speeding (I always wonder what the hell movie characters who do this are thinking) and end up in far more trouble than they otherwise would have been in, the miscommunication with the hookers in Las Vegas, and the cross-country internet date who isn't what she claims to be. Although William Shatner's cameo is pretty funny, and Mewes and Smith have a moment. There is also a very clever visual pun at the end of the police chase.
The four male characters were all essential to the story. Even Eric, the mature one, is essential because his maturity ultimately grounds the high geekdom of Hutch, Windows, and Linus. But for my life I can't figure out why Zoe was included. Her geek quirks are merely referenced in the dialogue, her background story is practically nonexistent, and she joins the ride halfway through to bail the boys out of jail - only for them to try to get her back on a plane to their native Ohio. Mainly her job is to be the sharp-tongued female geek of the gang, and to be a love interest for one of the characters. This would be shameful in any context, but it's more so in Zoe's case because she is played by the wonderful Kristen Bell, one of the most talented and beautiful actresses working today.
Maybe Fanboys was meant to be a love letter. But it comes up more like a middle finger. It has heart, but Ed Wood had a heart too. Look how his movies turned out.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Set in the not-so-distant past of 1998, this unusual comedy finds four friends embarking on an epic cross-country road trip to see STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. Since the film hasn't been released yet, they must travel to Skywalker Ranch to steal the film from George Lucas's home.