The fans have spoken: In response to pressure from the online community, the cancer subplot prevails in “Fanboys,” a raunchy, rough-around-the-edges comedy about five “Star Wars” nuts who fulfill a childhood pact by breaking into Skywalker Ranch for an early look at “Episode I.” It’s a qualified victory for a project with nearly as many alternate edits as “Blade Runner,” since this version (opening Feb. 6, delayed from a September release) may satisfy the peanut gallery and preserve director Kyle Newman’s vision, but exploits a less-than-solid storytelling device. Still, the resulting publicity should attract a decent geek-centric audience.
Over the course of its topsy-turvy production, “Fanboys” has become as much a cause as an actual film, an offscreen David-vs.-Goliath story pitting a handful of amateur filmmakers against the reshoot-inclined Weinstein Co. End result feels like an uneven cross between an amateur “Project Greenlight” pic and such recent comedies as “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” in which indie directors brought a certain edge to material that might once have felt more at home under the National Lampoon label.
“Fanboys” fits squarely into the zany road-trip category, briskly introducing the five key characters while setting their Ohio-to-California pilgrimage in motion: Eric (Sam Huntington) doesn’t have the nerve to tell his car-dealing dad that he wants to ditch the family business and draw comicbooks; loudmouth Hutch (Dan Fogler) hopes to move out of his mother’s carriage house; socially awkward Windows (Jay Baruchel) can’t wait to meet an online girlfriend who calls herself “Rogue Leader”; tomboy goddess Zoe (Kristen Bell) can’t seem to get her soulmate’s attention; and terminally ill Linus (Christopher Marquette) is living with the possibility that he may not be around when “The Phantom Menace” opens.
With Linus’ death hanging over their heads, the friends hit the road in Hutch’s old van, which he has customized with such features as a nitrous oxide tank (for those unexpected jumps to light speed) and a roof-mounted R2-D2 model. The gang’s plan sends them ping-ponging all over the country, first to Iowa, where they pick a fight with a group of “Star Trek” fans led by a barely recognizable Seth Rogen, then south to Austin, Texas, where uber-fanboy Harry Knowles (played by “My Name Is Earl’s” Ethan Suplee) roughs them up a bit, then to Vegas to meet a man with blueprints to Skywalker Ranch.
Cameos from such geek idols as William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and Ray Park spice up the group’s adventures, which otherwise lean toward the predictable: mistaking a session with two Sin City escorts for getting lucky, tripping on Native American herb beneath the desert stars and landing in the slammer for trying to outrun a police officer.
Their life-changing trek marks a spiritual journey of sorts, one governed by a form of pop-culture worship in which George Lucas’ “Star Wars” mythology serves as the prevailing religion. It’s a generational thing, but a tactic that should play well to twenty- and thirtysomethings who define themselves by such touchstones as “Scooby-Doo,” “Back to the Future,” “Dirty Dancing” and Super Nintendo, all of which are freely referenced here.
Above all else, “Fanboys” remains an enthusiastic attempt to pay tribute to the film that sparked countless fans’ love for the movies. Still, Newman and company have stiff competition in this sector: “Fanboys” arrives on the heels of much funnier made-for-TV “Star Wars” homages by “Robot Chicken” and “Family Guy.” It helps that Lucas gave the film his blessing, allowing key sound effects to be used (light-saber whooshes accompany the Weinstein Co. logo that opens the film), although bursts of John Williams’ score would have gone a lot further than Mark Mothersbaugh’s next-best-thing music.
Though not as dirty-minded as, say, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, who pop up for a bad-taste bit part here, screenwriters Ernest Cline and Adam Goldberg provide an awful lot of bodily-function humor for a film in which no actual sex takes place.
In the version screened for fans at Comic-Con, said to be the final cut agreed upon for theatrical release, pic is set in motion by the cancer plot device but avoids lingering on sentimental scenes toward the end. Soundtrack contains fewer Rush songs than Hutch’s character may have wanted, and things go a little haywire when Danny McBride shows up as Lucas’ lead “THX-1138”-costumed security guard, but tech credits are more than adequate despite the relative inexperience of those involved.