[Screen It]

(2009) (Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A group of fans obsessed with "Star Wars" set off on a 1998 road trip to California in hopes of stealing a preview copy of the latest upcoming film in the series.
It's 1998 and longtime friends Linus (CHRIS MARQUETTE), Hutch (DAN FOGLER) and Windows (JAY BARUCHEL) are eagerly awaiting the release of "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace." In fact, they've been waiting for it since the last "Star Wars" film some 15 years earlier. Now in their early to mid twenties, they're best described as "fanboys," although their friend Zoe (KRISTEN BELL) is just as versed in all things Jedi.

Eric (SAM HUNTINGTON) used to be like them, but has moved on, now working for his dad's automotive chain, and seeing himself as the only one who's grown up. That's driven home when he attends a party where his past friends arrive dressed like Darth Vader and his storm troopers, but Eric has a change of heart toward them and their fixation when he learns that Linus has cancer.

Accordingly, he helps resurrect his former friend's 5th grade plan to break into "Star Wars" creator George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch and steal an advance print of the upcoming film. Traveling in Hutch's van, the guys set off from Ohio for California, with Zoe joining them when she has to bail them out of jail. As they continue on their trip to get their hands on the film, they must contend with various obstacles along the way, including rival sci-fi fans who are just as fanatical about "Star Trek" as they are about "Star Wars."

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I love movies as much as the next person. Okay, let me clarify that point. I love the concept of terrific films, but unfortunately there aren't that many of them in existence. So when one comes along, it's time for rejoicing, honoring, and spreading the word. In short, I'm a fan of good movies.

But I'm not and never have been a so-called "fanboy." Those are the moviegoers, usually but not always male in gender, who become obsessed with a particular title or film series, far more often than not that exist in the sci-fi or fantasy genre. Once not-so-politely referred to as "nerds" and "geeks," they're the kind of people who buy every related collectible they can find and/or afford.

They also know just about every piece of trivia that exists in relation to said film(s), and in the pre-Internet days gravitated toward conventions but nowadays also populate online chat rooms, discussion groups, forums and such to mingle with like-minded folks.

The most notable group of such people are Trekkers (formerly known as Trekkies, although that's now considered an insult or putdown to those who worship at the throne of Roddenberry). But there are also those who love all things regarding a certain other sci-fi space saga, and while they don't have a cute group name like their predecessors, they're certainly a "force" to be reckoned with.

Yes, I'm talking about "Star Wars," and such fans are the central fictional characters in "Fanboys," a cute, fairly amusing and occasionally rather funny look at a bunch of current and former geeks who head off -- in 1998 -- to catch an unauthorized preview screening of the first installment of the next trilogy in the "SW" series, "The Phantom Menace."

The filmmakers -- director Kyle Newman and screenwriters Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg -- have delivered what may be nirvana for such real-life people. Beyond showcasing characters just like or at least similar to them, as well as the related trivia knowledge, costumes and such, there are many insider jokes as well as scenes designed as loving parallel homage to the ones from the original films. That's not to mention various cameos, both from performers in those pics, other fans, and even an actor best associated with the rival fanboy base.

While that might make all or at least parts of the film sound impenetrable to some degree to regular moviegoers who wouldn't know Boba from Jango Fett, much of the material is accessible enough that most viewers will get some if not all of the jokes. But that doesn't mean it's a great comedy or even a good one, as it's uneven in its approach and often gets sidetracked in its pursuit of jokes stemming from sexual and/or crude humor.

At its most basic, it's a road trip flick about four young adult guys and one gal who don't want to give up their grasp on their childhoods just yet (although that makes it sound like it has more thematic subtext than it actually does). Working from a plan they hatched back in the 5th grade, they set off from Ohio for "Star Wars" creator George Lucas' stronghold just north of San Francisco, with hopes of breaking into Skywalker Ranch and seeing "SWE1TPM" before anyone else.

Along the way, they have run-ins with the aforementioned Trekkers, hostile patrons at a gay bar, some hookers and their pimp, a peyote-induced drug trip, a stint in jail, as well as a budding romantic crush and a barely touched upon subplot involving one of them dying from cancer.

Some of the gags work and others don't (due to poor construction and/or simply having been done before in other films), and the pic and its characters (embodied by Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Jay Baruchel, Dan Folger and Kristen Bell), never quite tap into enough of the lovable loser charm that Judd Apatow has mined to great success in his similarly minded pics.

Perhaps that might explain why the film has had a devil of time getting made and released. Whatever the case for those issues might be, the end result is mediocre at best, with real-life fanboys (and girls) probably getting more of a kick out of it than your average moviegoer. Fitfully fun and/or amusing but far too often ending up on a detour of some sort down a wrong-minded path, "Fanboys" tries too hard in its inclusion of throwaway humor when it should be focusing on loving satire of its characters and their obsession. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed February 17, 2009 / Posted February 20, 2009

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