review by Cynthia Fuchs, 1 February 2002
movies just don't need to be made. And some movies work extra hard
to educe comments just like that one, making the extra effort to
gross you out, to annoy, alarm, or titillate you. Dewey Nicks'
feature debut, Slackers is one of those hardworking movies.
Consider the title's clunk-on-the-head suggests the overtime someone
put in to come up with an irritatingly unimaginative retread
by David H. Steinberg, Slackers begins with a brief rundown
of its three protagonists' profound lack of goals and aspirations.
Dave (Devon Sawa), Jeff (Michael C. Maronna), and Sam (Jason Segel)
have reached senior year at whatever college they're attending,
without really passing a course. They enroll in large lecture
courses, never show up for class, then finagle ingenious cheats for
the final exams. They think they are very clever.
example of this strategy opens the film. Dave narrates: it's 48 days
before graduation, so they're into their homestretch (life after
graduation isn't really a concept here; such is the standard
limitation of farting-college-boy movies). Their mission: to steal
official blue books off a delivery truck, in order to scam entrance
into an exam, in order to steal questions that one of the trio will
then use to pass said exam, after faking a bicycle accident and
subsequent broken leg. The scheme involves videotaping a girl's
cheerleading or perhaps track squad as they go jogging (granting
various close-up jiggle shots that, oddly, seem more geared for your
delectation than as a means to develop characters Dave, Jeff or Sam:
go figure), and the to-be-late-exam-taker's cockamamie antics on a
bike. All this effort seems extreme. Heck, maybe it would be easier
just to go to class once in a while.
"crucial" part of this plot involves Dave's appearance at
the final for a class he didn't take, but whose questions he needs
to steal, in order for Jeff-or-Sam (doesn't really matter which one)
to have answers ready for the same makeup exam the next day. The
real point (as opposed to all the fake ones listed above) is that
Dave meets a girl who is actually taking the exam, the fabulous
Angela (James King), and while he's flirting with her, he's spotted
by another exam-taker, the Lord of Losers who calls himself Cool
Ethan (Jason Schwartzman). And so... Cool Ethan threatens to bust
the cheaters unless they get him hooked up with Angela.
hooking up will never happen, of course, because Dave and Angela
take mutual shines to one another, for no good reason except that
they are the stars of the movie. But in order to make the
"feature film" running time, Dave-Sam-Jeff make a series
of efforts to get "info" on Angela, in order to feed it to
Ethan, so he can look good to her. For an ordinary human, at least
in the realm of Dave-Sam-Jeff, this approach works. But for Ethan,
showing up at the hospital or homeless shelter where Angela
volunteers just makes him look more crushingly repulsive (if this
can be imagined, given that you learn he keeps a "shrine"
to Angela in his dorm room and jerks off with a doll he's made out
of strands of her hair that she's left at her chair in class).
might be appalled, for instance, when you see Ethan at the hospital,
enticed by one of Angela's elderly patients (a freakishly made-up
Mamie Van Doren) to suck on her breast. When Angela walks in on this
scene, you'd imagine that would be a last straw. But no, she's so
perfectly pretty and sweet (and dense) that she only rolls her eyes
and maybe wonders a bit, though it's hard to tell exactly what she's
thinking. But no matter. Girls in Slackers do not have brains
or roles; they serve one function, to enhance your enjoyment of the
boys' shenanigans. And so, Angela's mother (Leigh Taylor Young)
blows Dave when he comes to visit (he endures the act, then falls
for Angela and feels guilty until he learns this mother is actually
a stepmother: thank god! He can pursue the girl of his dreams with
legitimate passion, or something like that). And Angela's roommate
Rianna (That '70s Show's Laura Prepon) is a nympho who
masturbates, a lot: oh, the hilarity.
they do go through some ups and downs (one of these downs entails
Ethan with a video camera), you know that Dave and Angela will be
together in the end. You may wonder -- as you're waiting for the
film to be over -- why the filmmakers even bothered to include a
romantic subplot. Perhaps this gave Slackers enough
"heart" (of the Bubble Boy sort) to enable young
up-and-comers like Sawa and King to take the roles, so they can
rationalize by pointing to their characters'
"motivations." "I really like this girl," says
King in the press notes. "She has a huge heart and wants to
believe the best in people... I know what it's like to be her age
and fall in love and be unsure of your emotions." Oh, that's
what those were.
you might feel some sympathy for King, and Sawa as well. She was
very beautiful as Kate Beckinsale's fellow nurse in Pearl Harbor,
and because her role was so slim, she didn't have to spend too much
time making excuses for that film's overbearing self-love. Sawa is
also still in that superficial career "stage," tending to
rest on his familiar insouciant-boy affect. Maybe he's looking to
make his earlier career respectable: the not-so-bad slasher flicks Final
Destination and Idle Hands look like masterpieces
compared to Slackers. Or maybe he's looking to be the next
Ashton Kutcher, because there surely aren't enough of them already.
most curious career choice here would have to be Schwartzman's. Not
long ago he was the flavor of the Geek Chic month (or year), for his
notable work in Wes Anderson's Rushmore. His Ethan is more
desperate and desperate, and certainly less charming than Max J.
Fisher, whose admittedly troubling obsession with his teacher was
evoked in emotional details and silliness rather than the
bludgeoning slapstick in Slackers. Ethan exhibits a meanness
that should actually be comprehensible: he's obviously been abused
by classmates throughout his life, so that his desire to wield his
sudden sense of power over these numb-nuts makes sense. But it's
hard to cozy up to a character as flat-out repulsive as Cool Ethan.
Perhaps this is the reason to take the part, to have the chance to
play a character so awful that viewers will be convulsing with
spasms of horror-struck laughter. You know, it's a stretch.
brutality and cunning are indeed remarkable. And so what if they're
unoriginal? It's fairly clear that the aim of this genre (whatever
you want to call it) isn't to break new, uh, ground, as much as it
is to run over -- and over and over -- the same turf, so viewers
know exactly when to laugh and go "Yeeech!" and poke their
buddies in their arms. Still, the redundancy eventually does undo
what is most keen in this formula, and that is to allow you to see
stereotypes in ways that might not have occurred to you before. If
all you're seeing is a slightly overheated version of the har-har
sex-jokes already made lite in Undeclared or That '70s
Show or battered to a pulp in Dude, Where's My Car? and American
Pie 2, well, you might as well find another genre to hit up for
(like, since he's been asked to pitch Slackers, about which
there is clearly very little to say), Schwartzman has been talking
to interviewers about going on the road with his band, Phantom
Planet. He's the drummer, and it sounds like a decent, if
predictable, gig. According to a "band journal" he wrote
for Details, he gets to meet chicks, sleep while sitting up
in the van, wake up stiff, and go on to hit the skins another day.
You know, like, awesome. Presumably, a gig like Slackers
helps pay for gas.
Michael C. Maronna
David H. Steinberg
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult