Fanboys is an affectionate homage to Star Wars -- the films and the feeding frenzy they fed. A "scruffy nerf-herder" of a comedy, it stumbles about, taking wild swings at its subject, like Luke Skywalker practicing blindfolded with his light saber. But it has heart, it finishes well, and it'll probably play better on home video than in a theater, where its Clerks II production values and clumsy shifts in tone won't stick out like a Wookie in an Ewok convention.
It's set in the dim and distant past, when the words "Fandango" and "Movietickets.com" were but futuristic fantasies, when fans camped out in line for tickets to movies they were dying to see.
Star Wars milked this phenomenon, and in 1998, The Force was coming back. That's when Episode 1, The Phantom Menace, the first Star Wars prequel, would hit theaters. Geek-friends Windows (Jay Baruchel), Linus (Chris Marquette) and Hutch (Dan Fogler) are counting down the 200 or so days left.
Their high school pals have all moved on, "grown up," but they still wear the Storm Trooper gear, ride around in a customized van with a Chewbacca horn. They still talk the talk.
"You girls lookin' for love in Alderaan places?"
As if they could ever pick a girl up. Zoe (Kristen Bell), the hottie in their ranks, doesn't count. She's one of the boys.
Eric (Sam Worthington) is the one who grew up. He's facing his future -- dad's chain of used-car dealerships. And he's not interested in falling back into old habits and old arguments.
"Luke was never hot for Leia!"
But Linus (Marquette), the best friend he left behind, is dying. And that revives the lads' age-old fantasy of trekking from Ohio to George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, stealing a rough cut of the new movie and watching it before the rest of the world.
Director Kyle Newman struggles to give what becomes a too-routine road-trip comedy some wit and pace. The four-handed script tosses in a dandy brawl with Trekkers (led by Seth Rogen) and a tiresome stop-over in Texas where nerd-guru Harry Knowles (played by Ethan Suplee) quizzes them on Star Wars trivia and gives them a contact for infiltrating the Ranch.
The characters are stereotypes, the story a cross between American Graffiti and Road Trip and the dialogue not quite retro-hip enough to sing. Breasts are "sweater yams," and so on.
But the tone seems as uneven as the pacing. Fanboys tries to walk the tightrope between adoration and mockery, between pandering crudeness and family-friendly. The "big" scenes don't have the oomph they need. The whole Star Wars/Star Trek nerd-feud (pots mocking kettles) should be epic but only earns a smirk or two.
It's a film that's had a troubled history, with studio editing, fanboy protests at that editing, re-shoots by another director and a final cut that feels much longer than its 90 minutes. A few laughs here and there and a couple of moments of emotionally stunted sweetness add up to a Fanboys that only a fanboy would love.