© 2009 Ray Wong
Once in a while there comes a movie that is aimed at the nerds, geeks and unpopular kids in all of us. Superbad achieves huge success by going for the sex. In many ways, Fanboys is a purer and better film.
Eric (Sam Huntington), Linus (Chris Marquette), Hutch (Dan Fogler) and Windows (Jay Baruchel) are four high school best friends who share the love of Star Wars and everything geek-like (except Star Trek -- they despise it). But Eric abandoned the group for three years while trying to impress his father, a car salesman, by working at his dealership. When Eric knows about Linus's illness, he decides to rekindle the friendship. They decide to fulfill their high school dream by driving cross-country to the Skywalker Ranch, this time to steal a rough cut of the new Star War prequel George Lucas has been working on (The Phantom Menace). If they succeed, they will live on forever as fanboy legends.
It so happens that Windows hooks up, online, with a woman who has insider information and access to the ranch. Armed with that connection, the group sets off on a three-day trek. On the way, of course they encounter the bizarre and weird. A few twists prompt Zoe (Kristen Bell), "one of the guys" who works at Windows's comic bookstore, to rescue them, then join them on the adventure.
The best friends are played with great chemistry by Sam Hutington (Looking Up Dresses) as the reluctant Eric, Chris Marquette (The Invisible) as the boy with the dying wish, Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury) as the disgusting Hutch, and Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up) as the nerd's nerd. These actors are not well-known (with Fogler and Baruchel being the most recognizable) but that works very well and gives the film a bit more authenticity. These four guys really do seem like best friends, however different they are.
In comparison, Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) stands out not only because she's the most recognizable star (through no fault of hers -- she made Fanboys before she did Sarah Marshall and Heroes), but also because she is too pretty and girlish to play "one of the guys" type of fangirl. Plus her eventual relationship with the awkward Windows is rather a fanboy's fantasy come true. Still, she does a good job and seems to have fun with the offbeat role.
The film also boasts wonderful cameos that would make the true fanboys scream. They include William Shatner playing himself, Seth Rogen, Carrie Fisher, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, and Billy Dee Williams.
Written by Ernest Cline, Adam F. Goldberg (Daddy Day Camp), and Dan Pulick, the script is uneven and offers a rather conventional approach to the buddy road trip genre. The premise, however, shows their real love and respect for geekdom. The screenplay is chockfull of trivia that only the true fanboys and fangirls would know. There's also a genuine energy which you will understand if you've ever been a geek. They also play the Star Wars vs. Star Trek card with great humor (if a bit over-the-top; but that's why this is a comedy).
There are, of course, flaws and dull moments, or jokes and situations that don't really work. The eventual romance between Windows and Zoe feels obligatory and forced, and totally unnecessary. The situations and dialogue sometimes feel trite and too over the top.
What is surprising, though, is the heart in the film. The four best friends, and the girl who tags along, truly show chemistry and it feels like they really do care about each other, even as they bicker and make fun of each other. The screenwriters nail it when they depict the social ineptness of these characters. There are some profound moments as well, and the ending is surprisingly emotional and poignant.
Director Kyle Newman (Drone) mostly gets out of the way and lets the story tell itself and the actors do their thing. The result is a run-of-the-mill direction but good enough to support the source material without calling attention to itself. Newman is able to keep up the pace, and give enough time for character development. We end up really liking these characters and caring about them, which lead to a very satisfying, though predictable and cliched ending. Still, if you've been a true fanboy or fangirl, you'd appreciate it. Newman shows a genuine appreciation of the story and the characters' sentiments.
I went to the movie not having a lot of expectations. After all, I've seen enough road trips and geek-love. But this really surprises me, and leaves me with certain glee that reminds me, maybe, deep down I'm just a closet fanboy!
Stars: Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell
Director: Kyle Newman
Writers: Ernest Cline, Adam F. Goldberg, Dan Pulick
Distributor: Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for pervasive crude and sexual material, language and drug use
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 8
Production – 7
Total – 7.5 out of 10