When the end credits rolled on the New Trilogy of George Lucas’ legendary Star Wars franchise in 2005, this was all supposed to go away. The space-epic story was supposed to revert back to the world of paperback novels and video games from whence it came, and that would be that. But there were still the Original Trilogy DVDs, released a few months earlier, to sift through. Then there was a cartoon to prolong it a little bit longer.
Now there’s Fanboys, a Lucas-approved geek-stoner comedy that takes us back in time a decade, to six months before Episode I – The Phantom Menace was unleashed on a willing but unsuspecting populace.
The time frame of “six months before” becomes a problem when Linus (Chris Marquette), a lifelong Star Wars devotee, finds out he has cancer and only three months to live. This injustice cannot stand, decide his equally devoted friends Eric (Sam Huntington), Hutch (Dan Fogler) and Windows (Jay Baruchel), so they band together and take him for one last wild ride: a cameo-filled road trip from their home of Ohio to Marin County, Calif., to steal the film’s work print from under Lucas’ nose at the Skywalker Ranch.
It’s a plan Linus has been dreaming of, in jest, for years, but to make it happen takes more suspension of disbelief than is possible, and the plot’s implausibility is clearly too difficult for first-time feature director Kyle Newman to overcome. What begins as a relatively simple, straight-line buddy comedy turns into a twisted corkscrew of in-joke hurdles, each level escalating in ridiculousness and none more incomprehensible than Seth Rogen’s double cameo as both a Trekkie and a Wars geek, brawling with each other over Han Solo’s honor on the floor of a Vegas casino.
The movie has a built-in, highly specific audience in mind, as the film’s poster, a mix of The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s marketing design and Darth Vader, indicates. Don’t know a nerf herder from a Nerf ball? Don’t bother. Not gonna get baked in the parking lot before you go in? Skip it. That goes double if you’re a Trekkie.
The cancer plot ends up as the catalyst, rather than the heart. What little heart the movie does possess lies within the inadvertent love story between the oblivious Windows and one-in-a-million, doesn’t-exist-in-real-life fangirl Zoe (Kristen Bell), whose sharp tongue and love of torturing Hutch is one of the few bright spots in this dreary paint-by-numbers comedy.
Fanboys’ development has become legend – originally slotted to come out in August 2007, it was delayed for reshoots and re-edits by a hack-for-hire director, Steven Brill, who traded foul e-mails with some of the film’s defenders in the fan community. Ironically, the film isn’t a victim of executive producer Harvey Weinstein’s well-known eagerness to edit films to death – a trait that’s earned him the name “Harvey Scissorhands” – or of Brill or anyone else. Its essential problem is one of timing. Ten years earlier, before the spate of alternating sappy-raunchy bromance pictures and before Star Wars references were run deep into the ground, there was room in the world for a movie like this. It may not have been any better a movie a decade ago, but it would have at least been a fresh take. It’s too late now, though. Star Wars is over, and it’s time to let it go.