It has been a long, winding and ultimately confused road that "Fanboys" has traveled on its way to a theatrical release. Principal photography began three years ago, Internet excitement built soon thereafter, and all signs pointed to a financially successful hit comedy in the making. In all of their infinite ignorance, The Weinstein Company had different plans, delaying its release by a solid twenty-four months and, at one point, even recutting the film in order to take out a major plot point that acts as its emotional through-line. Saner minds prevailed, however, when an uproar broke out over this intended editorial desecration. Now, in 2009, "Fanboys" finally has seen the light of day, but what could have been a wide-release breakout success has instead arrived in a handful of theaters with precious little advertising and promotion. Don't you just love today's Hollywood studio system?
It is six months until the release of the long-awaited "Star Wars: Episode OneThe Phantom Menace
," and 24-year-old superfans Eric (Sam Huntington), Linus (Chris Marquette), Hutch (Dan Fogler) and Windows (Jay Baruchel) can hardly contain their anticipation. Old high school friends living in Ohio, Eric and Linus have since drifted apart, with Eric choosing to forego his dream of being a comic book artist in order to work in his family's car sales business. They reunite at a Halloween party in 1998, but Linus is more than a little bitter, unsure if their friendship can ever be like it once was. Soon after, Hutch and Windows reveal to Eric some grave news: Linus has inoperable cancer and only a few months to live. Yearning for one last crazy adventure together as a foursome, they set out in Hutch's "Star Wars"-detailed van with one mission: break into San Francisco-based Skywalker Ranch and nab a rough copy of George Lucas' latest sci-fi opus. Eventually joined by acquaintance Zoe (Kristen Bell), a respective fangirl hottie if there ever was one, their journey cross-country is riddled with wacky misadventures, comic blunders, and eye-opening moments of platonic (and romantic) bonding.
Directed with congenial enthusiasm by Kyle Newman, "Fanboys" is the kind of groovy, easygoing, good-hearted affair that manages to entertain despite its shortcomings. As a road trip comedy, the film predictably hits all the conventional hallmarks of the genre, but hits them well. There is a run-in with an outdoor Trekkie group that turns into a brawl; hilarity at a Latino gay bar after they get a flat tire; a special appearance by Ain't-It-Cool-News creator Harry Knowles (Ethan Suplee) in Austin, Texas; a stop in glitzy Las Vegas for a meeting with a top-secret identity with floorplans and security blueprints of Skywalker Ranch, and even a tongue-in-cheek appearance by Carrie Fisher as a doctor whose uncanny resemblance to, uh, Carrie Fisher is not lost upon Linus. There are some mild laughs to be had, and more than a few clever in-jokes and gags (loved the barbed reference to 1998's Harrison Ford/Anne Heche bomb "Six Days, Seven Nights"), but mostly "Fanboys" will leave you with a smile across your face for ninety minutes.
As a glimpse into the lives of self-proclaimed geeks who camp outside theaters and dress up in-character annually at ComicCon, "Fanboys" is a loving tribute more than anything. Screenwriters Ernest Clint and Adam F. Goldberg has fun with their ''Star Wars"-frenzied charactersthey can break out into arguments over the details of Princess Leia's relationship with Han Solo at a moment's noticebut they also recognize that there is more to them than just that. That Eric, Linus, Hutch and Windows love "Star Wars" doesn't mean that it wholly defines them, or that they are socially inept and pathetic because of it, as Roger Ebert so snarkily and narrow-mindedly lambasted them in his mean-spirited review of "Fanboys." Instead, the picture simply portrays what it is like to be passionate about something in life. With all due respect to Ebert, perhaps he has become jaded in his advanced age and lost touch with what it feels like to deeply care about something even as arbitrary as "Star Wars."
Sam Huntington (2007's "Freshman Orientation
"), Chris Marquette (2007's "The Invisible
") and Jay Baruchel (2008's "Tropic Thunder
") are immensely likable as Eric, Linus and Windows, while Dan Fogler (2007's "Balls of Fury
") struggles to find a happy medium between levity and going over-the-top as Hutch. Fogler is a hotwire of energy, but there are times when he seems to be overcompensating for a lack of self-assurance. That certainly isn"t the case with Kristen Bell (2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall
"), who does wonderful work with the way-cool part of Zoe. Bell's role gives her ample opportunity to play the girl-next-door type who is still tough enough to hang with the boys and beat them all at "The Legend of Zelda," and not enough positive things can be said about her. It wouldn't have hurt, though, to develop Zoe a bit more than she is; little is really ever touched upon concerning her background, her personal appreciation of "Star Wars," etc.
"Fanboys" is an imperfect movie, but difficult not to enjoy. The occasionally choppy editing suggests that things used to be more R-rated, while the cancer subplot, despite leading to some truly heartfelt moments near the end, rears its head only when the plot requires it. Thus, Linus walks around throughout looking well and sprightly, rather than someone on his deathbed. It is also far-fetched to believe that these guys would be able to infiltrate the Skywalker Ranch, but perhaps that's the joke of it all. A scene set inside the headquarters where the five pals drool over a room of George Lucas memorabilia ("Willow" even gets a shout-out) is played with just the right gentle, nostalgic touch, keying into how much of an impact movies, as with other forms of art, can have on people. Additionally, songs are well-chosen to recall the late-'90s time period, and the effective final scene ends with a terrific punchline that won't be given away here. "Fanboys" is lightweight in tone, but actually does have something to say amidst the lunacy and formulaic storytelling. Director Kyle Newman may not always be elegant in how he gets his points across, but he makes up for the broader edges with ambition and sentiment.