Much as Robert Zemeckis toyed with Beatlemania in "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" a generation ago, the wobbly new comedy "Fanboys," set in 1998, salutes Yoda worship and the fine line between ardor and breaking and entering. It follows a quintet of "Star Wars" fanatics on a journey from their small town in Ohio to their Holy Grail, their Oz: George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in California.
The plan, hatched when the characters were in fifth grade, involves busting into the joint and sneaking a look at a work print of "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." That was the movie, released in 1999, beginning with the words: "Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute." Moral: Some opening crawls are better than others.
"The Phantom Menace" opened to fearsomely high expectations. "Fanboys" provokes no such expectations. It's a genial, sloppy, minor affair, offering a smidgen of inside baseball, which includes a gag at the expense of the forgotten, late '80s Lucas-produced epic "Willow" and an entire scene built around Harry Knowles, film fan and founder of the Web site Ain't it Cool News. (He's played by Ethan Suplee.)
Mostly, first-time feature director Kyle Newman sticks to general-interest road-movie antics. Jay Baruchel, the skinny, pale, worried fellow who muttered "I shouldn't have gone in there" in "Knocked Up," fares best as the one they call Windows, who can't wait to meet the online girlfriend he got to know in a Jedi chat room. The one with the "Star Wars"-tricked-out van, Hutch (Dan Fogler), lives in his mom's "carriage house" (a garage with airs, in his case). The responsible one (Sam Huntington) is due to take over the family car dealership. His best friend (Christopher Marquette), lately more of an acquaintance, is coping with the early stages of cancer, and it is for him that the gang -- rounded out by The Girl, played by Kristen Bell -- zigzags west to Skywalker Ranch.
Various accounts of "Fanboys" delays and reshoots have been floating for months, and the filmmakers fought, successfully, to keep the cancer story line. The sharpest idea in the script, credited to Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg, pits these "Star Wars" freaks against a rival gang of "Star Trek" lunatics, or Trekkies (I'm sorry, pardon me; Trekkers). At a small-town Iowa gathering of Trekkers, Seth Rogen has a rich cameo as the keeper of the Gene Roddenberry flame.
William Shatner turns up for a Vegas cameo; "Star Wars" alums Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams pop in for a visit; and Danny McBride of "Pineapple Express" appears in the climax, wherein the Ohio 5 collide with the Skywalker Ranch security team.
It all should've been wilder and funnier. For a comedy of fanboy insanity to fly, I suspect, it has to be a little less beholden to the pop-culture phenoms it is satirizing, however affectionately.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun