"Fanboys" is set in 1998, both for reasons of nostalgia and necessity. That year was the last before the Great George Lucas Backlash, when a generation that grew up swinging sticks in back-yard light-saber battles turned against Lucas, traumatized by his abysmal "Star Wars" prequels.
The film follows a team of geeks motoring cross-country to infiltrate Skywalker Ranch and sneak a peek at the rough cut of "Episode I." The irony of their quest is one of this shaggy-dog movie's better gags.
The action begins in Ohio, where sarcastic Linus (Chris Marquette), nerdy Windows (Jay Baruchel) and wild man Hutch (Dan Fogler) are holding out against the Dark Side (encroaching adulthood) via obsessive fandom. Old pal Eric (Sam Huntington) is wavering; his used-car dealer dad (Christopher McDonald) wants him to give up his dream of drawing comic books and take over the family firm.
Through one of the most knotheaded plot devices I've seen in a long time, Linus is given a Very Sad Disease, and his pals brighten his final days with a commando raid on the San Francisco headquarters of the Lucas Empire. En route, they spat with rabid "Star Trek" fans, collide with gay bikers, and tussle with the police. It's not laugh-a-minute stuff -- Jar Jar Binks jokes are pretty stale at this late date -- but the film is breezy and moves at a nice clip even when the jokes are simplistically silly. The funniest performance belongs to roly-poly Fogler (star of the Bruce Lee ping-pong travesty "Balls of Fury"), who invites comparison to Jack Black.
Although it was made on a minuscule budget, "Fanboys" feels overstuffed. There are too many sci-fi in-jokes to count, and a staggering number of cameo appearances (including William Shatner, who has attained a Leslie Nielsen stage of self-parody, and others who ought to stay under wraps). Nothing hangs together, although there are enough flashes of crude humor to make the film a genial experience. It helps to have a "Jeopardy"-level command of Lucas lore to get the funny in some scenes -- a shout-out to the chrome-faced cops in "THX 1138" will leave many a novice's head scratched -- but there are plenty of sex and bathroom jokes to take up the slack.
It's a shame there wasn't more money on hand for a rewrite to sharpen up the characters (they are types rather than distinctive personalities) and some decent photography. It won't win any awards for brilliance, but I laughed a little, guffawed at a couple of uproarious moments and generally enjoyed the film. Any film that turns R2-D2 into a lusty anatomical nickname can't be all bad.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186