There is a moment near the opening of Fanboys, after our heroes have crashed a fancy dress party decked out as stormtroopers and Darth Vadar, where Kristen Bell’s impossibly hot nerd, Zoe, grows weary of them bleeting on about the impending awesomeness of The Phantom Meanace and declares: “I can’t listen to this shit for another six months.” Despite only having to listen to it for another eighty-five minutes, we whole-heartedly share her sentiments.

First conceived by co-scripter Ernest Cline and his buddies more than a decade ago, when the world was collectively salivating at the prospect of another bombastic trilogy (how naïve we were), this passion project has been ten stop-start years in the making propelled along by big names lending their support (Kevin spacey takes a producer credit). On paper it’s got all the makings of a solid comedy in the bro-mance vein, ticking one genre box after another.

We’ve got a snarky but sentimental friendship between two guys, Eric (Sam Huntington – the poor man’s Paul Dano), and the terminally ill Linus (Chris Marquuette). Once best friends with dreams of starting their own comic, a bust up sees them now standing on different sides of the divide between prolonged adolescence and grown up responsibility. We’ve got a subplot where weakling Windows (Jay Baruchel) is so wrapped up in an Internet infatuation he fails to notice the friend right next to him. We’ve got an anarchic road trip to bring everyone together. It’s all here, so why doesn’t it work?

Chiefly the problems stem from inexperience and a lack of story discipline. First time director Kyle Newman, who has previously worked within the confines of shorts and animation isn’t sure quite how to prioritize. What should be a story about friendship that cleverly works in homage instead devolves into a haphazard series of skits whereby entire scenes are seemingly constructed simply to drop in a reference. It smacks of exactly what it is – something that’s been through ten years of rewrites, in desperate need of a little focus.

Having spent what seems like an age setting up this crusade to drive from Ohio to Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, so Linus can sneak at peak at the movie before the end, the first thing they do is take a detour to Iowa just to mock some Star Trek nerds. There’s some Harold and Kumar-lite nonsense involving gay Mexican bikers (don’t ask), Danny Trejo, and peyote because it’s seemingly the only way they can possibly crowbar in a gag about Ewoks dry humping. The fact that Newman reaches for the montage button barely at the half hour mark speaks volumes.

Somewhere deep in this mishandled mess is a story about dreams; about how movies inspire and continue to shape our lives and invite us to ponder what we’re capable of, but we’re buggered if we can find it, and neither it seems can Newman. Instead we’re left with tired parody (spoofing the scrolling intro credits? really?) and gross out gags that belong in Date Movie. What saves Fanboys from abject comedic failure are the numerous star cameos that crop up just regularly enough to ensure you never actually break down and weep.

A deadpan William Shatner playing a Deep Throat role is inspired, Seth Rogan as a pimp with a man crush on Harrison Ford is hysterical, and Kevin Smith pimping out Jason Mewes in a rest-stop bathroom provides the only true belly laugh in the movie. But instead of being the icing on the cake they’re so good they actually backfire and only serve to highlight how out of their depth the principle cast are (particularly Dan Fogler who seems to have nothing in his arsenal beyond a pale Jack Black impersonation).

When they finally reach the fabled Skywalker Ranch and wander haphazardly into a prop display room there is something approaching a dénouement where for one brief moment we glimpse the idea behind the movie. Watching them thumb the band of Indy’s fedora and cradle Jedi’s thermal detonator we’re reminded just how much joy Lucas has given us over the years – but then Ray Park shows up, offers a quip and chases them down into a trash compactor room. When it’s finally over (90 minutes that honestly feel twice that) Sam and Linus patch things up in a way that in the context of the story is entirely unjustified. Linus offers: “Dude, this was never about the movie.” Would that it was so, Linus. Would that it was so.

2008

Starring: Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Carrie Fisher, Seth Rogan, Ray Park

Director: Kyle Newman

Runtime: 90 Minutes

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Rating: PG-13

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