The year was 1999. Nerds everywhere were in a fervor. Their beloved Star Wars was coming back, a new trilogy on the horizon, and no one could escape the hype machine. Even people who didn’t give two craps about the franchise were sucked into the pandemonium, as you couldn’t buy a case of soda or a burger from a fast food joint without being bombarded with promotional items. So imagine if you knew you wouldn’t live to see the premiere, especially if it’s something you’d yearned for you’re entire life. What would you do? That’s a question Kyle Newman’s Fanboys attempts to tackle.
On Halloween night 1998, five hardcore Star Wars fans reunite at a Halloween party after drifting apart following high school. Linus, Hutch, Windows, and Zoe have all stayed close to one another, living and breathing “the force” while Eric has abandoned his dreams of becoming a comic book artist and become a partner in his fathers car dealership; in other words, he’s grown up. At the party, the group whip out a palm pilot, counting down the days until the release of Episode One, and Linus brings up a schoolboy fantasy of theirs revolving around trekking across the country to visit Skywalker Ranch. What better time than now, when they could break in and see the film six months early? Eric, the most level-headed of the bunch, dismisses it all as a childhood pipe-dream, and once again finds himself on the outs with the group.
A few days later, Hutch and Windows visit him at his car dealership, and break a piece of news to him: Linus has cancer and probably won’t make it to see the premiere of The Phantom Menace. Feeling like crap, Eric decides to make up the last three years to Linus and the boys in the only way he can think of: taking a road trip to Skywalker Ranch. Obviously this is easier said than done, and taking Hutch’s barely-running van filled with nothing but Rush cassettes may not have been the wisest of ideas, and the boys find themselves in the middle of all sorts of ridiculous adventures. Is the force strong enough in them to make it to the promised land?
Not being a huge Star Wars fan myself, I went into Fanboys without being a “fanboy” of the hook the film uses to get asses into seats. Wacky road trip movies though can definitely be fun, and regardless of the status of my fandom, I got caught up in the maddening Episode One hype, so I was willing to give the flick a look. Unfortunately, it just barely scrapes by at being a decent comedy, and this is something I was afraid of after the cringe-inducing opening scroll parody. Most of the jokes are sophomoric at best, yet not the good kind; Fanboys utilizes tired gags and worn-out nerd stereotypes that we’ve all seen before, and outside of the Star Wars theme, there’s little to differentiate the film from the hundreds of other sub-par “friends go on a trip and get into lots of trouble” movies out there.
The biggest flaw of Fanboys however is that it has a bit of an identity crisis. Thanks to the plot dealing with a friend dying of cancer, the film attempts to get sentimental in spots, and it falls embarrassingly flat. These few scenes lack any real emotion or depth, probably due to the fact that it’s a facet of the script that’s woefully underdeveloped, and they ultimately make you feel pretty uncomfortable because of that. It’s almost as if someone crowbarred them into the script, attempting to create some profundity among the foolishness, but it completely misses the mark. It’s been reported Fanboys went through editing hell before it was unleashed onto the public, so this mangled subplot could have stemmed from that, but I can only judge the finished product, and it leaves a lot to be desired.
Still, Fanboys does have its moments. The cameos are mostly fun, featuring guys like William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Ray Park, and the ever-awesome Danny Trejo. The best surprise cameo though comes way of a 30-second spot from Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes; in fact, it was probably the best “laugh out loud” moment of the entire film. While I’m sure I missed a lot of the Star Wars references jam-packed into the story, the more well-known homages, like the trash-compactor scene, provide a nice bit of nostalgia. And then there’s Seth Rogan, who plays dual roles as a Star Trek geek and a Star Wars-tattooed pimp. He really has the best lines in the entire flick, and the “Star Wars vs. Star Trek” scenes are the highlights of the screenplay.
A bit too self-aware for its own good and making the unfortunate decision of picking a guy that’s far more annoying than funny to deliver most of the heavy comic-relief (Dan “I Wish I Was Jack Black” Fogler), Fanboys is an average comedy at best, and undeserving of the attention it’s received. I’m sure there’s an audience out there for it, as some Star Wars fans will eat up anything (I’ve heard fans of The Phantom Menace actually exist), but unless you live and breathe all-things Lucas, I promise your life won’t be affected adversely if you give this a skip. Although you would be missing out on seeing Kristen Bell decked out in a Princess Leia outfit…
Fanboys is presented on DVD in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen courtesy of The Weinstein Company. This is a lower budget affair, and the visuals show that, as there’s little spice to the proceedings. That said, the transfer looks just fine, albeit a little flat, dark and drab. I didn’t notice any signs of artifacts. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is clean and clear, with little directionality in the rear speakers, but for a comedy like this, it’s to be expected.
First up on the extras front is a commentary track featuring director Kyle Newman, writers Ernest Cline and Adam Goldberg, and stars Kristen Bell, Dan Fogler, and Sam Huntington. With so many people involved, things get a little crazy at times, but they do a nice job of talking about the troubles involved with getting the film out there as well as pointing out some references that you may otherwise miss. Six deleted scenes are included, most of which prove to be deserving of being left on the cutting room floor, but the extended scene with Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes is good times. Finally, there’s five short featurettes, which come off as a sliced-up EPK. Lots of interviews with the cast and crew here, but there’s a lot of information repeated multiple times and it’s all rather dry.
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