Release Date: 2008
Director: Kyle Newman
Writers: Ernest Cline, Adam F. Goldberg and Dan Pulick
Sam Huntington: Eric
Chris Marquette: Linus
Dan Fogler: Hutch
Jay Baruchel: Windows
Kristen Bell: Zoe
David Denman: Chaz
Christopher McDonald: Big Chuck
Charlie B. Brown: Myron
Run-Time: 90 mins.
Studio: Trigger Street Productions
As movies go, the plot to “Fanboys” is pretty straightforward: A bunch of “Star Wars” obsessives from Ohio cook up a plot to drive cross-country and steal a copy of “The Phantom Menace,” the 1999 prequel that introduced director/auteur George Lucas’ cinematic juggernaut to a new generation of viewers.
Scratch the surface, though, and what you get is a sweet-natured meditation on mortality and the choices foisted upon us by adulthood — liberally interspersed, of course, with boob and butt jokes and “Star Wars” references that come so thick and fast that they may leave the average viewer behind.
As the film opens, we meet Eric (Huntington), a responsible 20-something, dying a slow death as he toils in his father’s used car lot. He’s sacrificed his teenaged fandom and yen for writing comic books in favor of a stab at maturity.
Of course, he’s not really sold on the idea. And Eric’s efforts to convince himself that he’s happy are literally etched across his prematurely worried brow.
After some years absence, he’s reunited one night at a costume party with three of his closest friends: Linus (Marquette), Hutch (Fogler) and Windows (Baruchel).
Obsessed with Star Wars, Hutch and Windows are kitted out as Imperial Stormtroopers, while Linus wears a Darth Vader outfit.
In seconds, it becomes clear that they’re the kind of awkward man-children, caught in that phase somewhere between youth and adulthood, that’s so beloved of directors like Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow.
The fact that Windows is barely functional around women and that Hutch still lives in his mother’s garage (“A carriage house,” he insists more than once) are instant — if clichéd — markers of their charter membership in Geekworld.
There’s an immediate set-to with Eric, who lamely jokes that he’s come to the party dressed as a used car salesman. In the midst of the jibes, Linus’ PalmPilot beeps (hey, this is the late 1990s) and a countdown to the release of the first “Star Wars” prequel lights up the screen.
Linus, Hutch and Windows give Eric more grief about his embrace of adulthood and his decision to turn his back on their teenaged dream of driving across country to break into Lucas’ stronghold at Skywalker Ranch near San Francisco.
Before long, however, a confluence of events, including Eric being given the family business (and hence an endless life of peddling used cars) and the revelation that Linus is fatally ill, with only months to live, make the road trip a reality. The friends set off in Hutch’s van, airbrushed with an oversized likeness of the famed poster of the first Star Wars movie and the music of Canadian power-rockers, Rush, to keep them company.
The premise set, “Fanboys” turns into the standard road movie, replete with hilarious mishaps, including a run-in with a posse of rival “Star Trek” fans headed by Manchild-in-Chief Seth Rogen (nearly unrecognizable in a bad haircut and dental prosthesis).
Speaking of unrecognizable, there’s Zoe (Bell), who works with Hutch and Windows at a local comic book store. Here, Bell has traded her trademarked blonde tresses for a Goth bob.
And in the hands of the writers, Zoe every fanboy’s dream: the beautiful girl with an encyclopedic knowledge of sci-fi and comic books. She’s just plain enough to be accessible and just beautiful enough to be the girl most men aspire to meet. Of course, a romance flowers between Zoe and one of the male characters.
There are other classic road movie tropes — the celebrity cameos and walk-ons that bring to mind the great road movies of the late 1950s and early 1960s such as “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” (still the all-time best). I won’t give any away. Just keep your eyes open.
By the third act, the crew (joined midway by Zoe) make it to Skywalker Ranch. The final scenes with the now-grievously ill Linus are particularly hard to watch, but have a sweet pathos all their own.
If you’re not a “Star Wars” fan, and weren’t in your middle to late-20s in 1998, it’s hard to describe the kind of obsessive excitement generated by the impending release of the first new film in the series for a quarter-century.
For those of us who grew up with the films, played with the action figures and memorized the dialogue, line for line (and I’m guilty on all three counts), it was a skip-school-call-out-from-work kind of anticipation that’s rarely rivaled by major life events outside of marriage and high school graduation.
So I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when Eric turns to his friends in the film’s final scene and gives voice to the fear that all of us secretly harbored at the time — “What if it sucks?”
Because, for most of us, the second half of the trilogy doesn’t hold a candle to the first (Seriously, the Galactic Empire was started by a tax dispute? The only thing worse would have been if the Jedi and Emperor clashed over who was entitled to get a zoning variance to build a new deck).
Really, the part of the film that resonated for me was the depth of the bond between the male characters.
All of us remember the gang of guys we hung out with in college and high school — the shared jokes, the private language, the mutual obsessions over sports, movies and even (in the case of your humble ‘blogger) music and comic books.
And we all know what happens when we get handed the diploma, land the first job and meet the woman you end up marrying — inevitably, those relationships take a backseat. And, if you’re not careful, they wither and die from neglect.
So it makes sense when Hutch observes that the one moment Luke Skywalker would always remember was the destruction of the Death Star. It was, he argues, the craziest, ballsiest single act of his life.
Raiding Skywalker Ranch, he argues quite persuasively, is “The Death Star” moment for the quartet of friends — the one thing they’d talk about and relish in their old age.
All of us need that “Death Star” moment. And we need to grab it before our friends figuratively — or literally — leave us..