You know those quirky independent films American directors occasionally make which poke gentle fun at some group of people, such as nerds or geeks? Fanboys isn’t one of those films, even though it’s about hardcore Star Wars fans. It actually smells like a Jack Black project, but one even Jack Black had the good sense to steer clear of.
It is 1999, six months before the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Eric (Sam Huntington) and Linus (Chris Marquette) were best buddies at high school, but have since drifted apart. Eric now works for his father at his car dealership, and is being groomed to take it over. Linus still hangs out with Hutch (Dan Folger) and Windows (Jay Baruchel), and with them is still a complete Star Wars fanboy. Eric and Linus run into each other at a party, and Hutch admits privately to Eric that Linus has cancer and no more than six months to live. Baulking at the pressure exerted by his father, and wanting to heal the rift with Linus, Eric resurrects an old dream to drive to Skywalker Ranch… but this time to break in and steal an early cut of The Phantom Menace. And that’s what they do.
In Hutch’s van, the four of them drive across the US to California, having assorted adventures on the way. They stop off in Riverside, Iowa – birthplace of Captain Kirk from Star Trek, and get into a fight with a bunch of trekkies. Their van breaks down and they ask for help in a bar full of hells angels… who turn out to be predatory gay leather-men. But they’re saved by an Indian chief who gives them peyote. They get arrested and are rescued by Zoe (Kristen Bell), Hutch’s assistant in his comic shop. In Las Vegas, and have another run-in with the trekkies. Eventually, they reach Skywalker Ranch, break in using information provided by William Shatner, and get to play around in George Lucas’s collection of Star Wars props.
At which point, they are discovered by Skywalker security, chased throughout the building and caught. When they admit the reason for the break-in, Lucas (who does not appear in the film) allows Linus to see the rough-cut on the condition he does not reveal what is in the film. Six months later, Eric, Hutch, Windows and Zoe are queuing for the premier of The Phantom Menace. Eric has left his father’s employ and is now a semi-successful comicbook artist – he has realised his dream. Windows and Zoe are in a relationship. As they settle into their seats in the cinema and the credits begin, one of them turns to the others and says, “Dude, what if it sucks?” Oh, the irony…
But then that final ‘ironic’ touch is pretty much par for the course as far as Fanboys humour goes. If anything, the film sets out to prove that geeks and nerds can be as asinine, sexist and stupid as the worst of Neanderthal sports jocks. This is not gentle humour, it’s dog-turd-in-the-face humour. Admittedly, there are some good moments of gentle parody – such as, while being chased by security guards in Skywalker Ranch, Eric et al slide down a chute into a garbage compactor.
But Fanboys feels mostly like a Hollywood project – the broad brush-stroke humour, the stereotypical characters and their stereotypical character-arcs, the homophobic gay bar scene… It also boasts an impressive cast of cameos by well-known faces – William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Seth Rogen (playing two parts), Kevin Smith, Ray Park, and Billy Dee Williams. But even their comic turns are not enough to make this film more than what it actually is: a not very good or especially funny example of the Hollywood collegiate road-trip movie.