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"SLACKERS"
(2002) (Devon Sawa, Jason Schwartzman) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A nerdy stalker blackmails three college cheaters into setting him up with the girl of his dreams.
PLOT:
Dave (DEVON SAWA), Sam (JASON SEGEL) and Jeff (MICHAEL C. MARONNA) are three friends who've breezed through Holden University by lying, cheating and scheming their way to good grades. They're about to graduate when they unfortunately run afoul of Ethan (JASON SCHWARTZMAN), a nerdy sociopath who figures out what they're doing.

Since he's infatuated with and essentially stalking Angela (JAMES KING), a classmate of theirs, but doesn't stand a chance with her due to his social awkwardness, he decides to blackmail the three friends, threatening to turn them in if they don't fix her up with him. Considering their past deceitful accomplishments, they figure this will be an easy task to pull off.

Accordingly, they learn everything they can about Angela, while setting up Ethan in situations where he keeps bumping into her. What they don't plan, however, is for Dave to fall for her and vice-versa, a point she discusses with her roommate, Reanna (LAURA PREPON). From that point on, and as Ethan becomes infuriated over this development, the three friends try to figure out how to handle this unexpected predicament.

OUR TAKE: 0 out of 10
Most filmmakers don't purposefully set out to make the Best Picture of the Year - although some are probably conceited enough that that's their sole purpose - but it does take a lot of work to make a really good to great film. The script must be top-notch, just like the performances, direction and all other technical work. A little bit of luck is also usually necessary for all of that to occur and then gel together into a satisfying whole.

Likewise, while no one sets out to make the worst film of the year - or at least one hopes that's the case - it also takes a great deal of work, albeit of the bad kind, to accomplish that. The script must stink, the performances must be bad, and the director needs to have shown little control over the project. In short, everything must fail to such a degree that you'll feel the need to get up and walk away from such an offering before you go crazy or lose some IQ points in the process.

"Slackers" is one of those latter films that - despite it still being quite early in 2002 - will certainly have a reserved spot on most critics and viewers' "worst of the year" lists. A purported comedy, the film tells the decidedly unfunny tale of what's essentially a nerdy stalker blackmailing some proficient cheaters into making the girl he's obsessed with fall for him.

As written by scribe David H. Steinberg ("American Pie 2") and helmed by first-time director Dewey Nicks, I suppose the film has a smattering of comedic potential somewhere within its premise. Unfortunately, none of that's on display here in this poorly executed comedy that's bad in just about every way imaginable.

While dramas can be atrocious in their own right, failed comedies - particularly of the type that brazenly push the exaggerated humor envelope - are usually more spectacular train wrecks. After seeing this crash, there's no denying that this one leaves few if any survivors in the wake of its complete, cinematic derailment.

The first and probably biggest problem stems from Steinberg's weak script. For a tale about clever and proficient characters who con their way through school and life (that makes one wonder about the misleading title), the plot is shockingly listless and unimaginative when it comes to showing the guys at work.

For such material to succeed, it must truly be clever and/or hilarious in nature, but what's present here comes up far short in either regard. Although we see the guys pulling off their schemes in various scenes, none of the material is imaginative, clever or outrageous enough to engage the viewer on any level except for boredom or disbelief in how bad all of it really is.

That includes the question of why it takes the three scheming friends so long to deliver their comeuppance to the blackmailer. Of course, if they had immediately put him in his place - as they presumably easily could have done - then we wouldn't have had a movie (on second thought, that's not such a bad idea).

The script easily could have worked around that problem by giving Ethan more of a threatening upper hand over the trio, or created more of an escalating tit for tat-based battle between them. That would have required some degree of imagination, though, a quality this film is sorely lacking.

It doesn't help that few of the characters are engaging, interesting or likable, or that those embody them are flat or just plain awful in portraying them. Most evident of the latter is Jason Schwartzman who did such a wonderful job in "Rushmore" that it's a disappointing shock to see him take such a major step backward with this role.

While some may comment that at least he doesn't hold anything back in portraying the nerdy stalker who's prone to outbursts of antisocial behavior, the character is nothing short of grating, and Schwartzman's performance is clearly irritating at best.

As the three friends, Devon Sawa ("Final Destination," "Wild America"), Jason Segel ("SLC Punk!" "Dead Man on Campus") and Michael C. Maronna (the first two "Home Alone" films) are mediocre to annoying in their performances, with Sawa presumably getting the romantic lead role by default.

Unlike other cinematic con artists of the past, none of the characters are engaging or interesting in concept or execution. Simply put, we don't care if they succeed or fail in any of the film's various plot issues, and none of their behavior or related material is amusing, let along funny or hilarious.

The only performer to escape this mess with half a modicum of decency is James King ("Pearl Harbor," "Blow") as the object of the boys' attention. Yet, that's probably as much due to her looking like a young Michelle Pfeiffer, as it is anything in particular that she brings to the flat role. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz ("Vanilla Sky," "Charlie's Angels") and Gina Gershon ("The Insider," "Bound") inexplicably show up in brief cameo roles, but don't do anything for the film other than make one ponder what favor they owed and to whom for them to appear in this mess.

Trying to be an edgy and irreverent, young adult comedy complete with various instances of nudity and/or outrageous sexual content, the film fails on all accounts. About the only good thing that can be said about "Slackers" is that it means critics and viewers will have to find one less awful film to complete their list of the year's worst offerings. The film rates as a 0 out of 10.




Reviewed January 14, 2002 / Posted February 1, 2002


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