`Slackers' looks for the humor in stalking

Movie review

February 01, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Slackers is an odd little movie. And not in a good way.

A teen comedy with a stalker at its center - and it plays this guy for laughs - this film wants to carve out a niche for itself. It concentrates on deviousness rather than foolishness (there's a dash of Dangerous Liaisons/Cruel Intentions in its lineage), and it includes big-name cameos. But giving a few moments of screen time to Gina Gershon and Cameron Diaz does not a cool film make.

Worse, writer David H. Steinberg and director Dewey Hicks never seem sure what sort of laughs to go for, although, in tried and true teen-comedy fashion, when in doubt, they resort to the gross-out. And there's not a single person in this film you'd want to ever be around.

Our heroes are three college seniors who pride themselves on never having done a lick of honest work; as the film opens, they're preparing to steal the answers for a final exam. But their scheme goes awry when ladies-man Dave (Devon Sawa) takes a liking to the girl seated next to him and jots his name and phone number on a piece of paper. She, being no fool (at least not yet), leaves the paper behind, where it's picked up by Ethan (Jason Schwartzman), an emotional misfit who's spent much of the past semester stalking her.

Ethan figures out the boys' scam and decides to blackmail them. Either they persuade Angela (James King, the dying nurse from Pearl Harbor) to go out with him, or he tells the dean what he knows and gets them expelled. Dave tries to set up Angela, but problems arise when he falls for her, and she for him.

Slackers starts off promisingly enough, with an ethereal version of the Who's "Baba O'Reilly" playing over the opening credits. Turning this anthem of teen rebellion into something like church music is an intriguing conceit, but the film never builds on that promise.

The characters are all teen-movie archetypes: Dave's the slick ladies' man, partners Sam and Jeff (Jason Segel and Michael C. Maronna) fill the party-boy and stoner roles, and Angela is the angelic object of lust.

When the film's pace slackens, Hicks either A) resorts to a dream sequence (that's where Diaz and Gershon come in) or B) goes for lowest-common-denominator yucks. In pursuit of the latter, we get to experience plenty of flatulence, a guy wearing a sock where it has no place and a scene with poor Mamie Van Doren that represents a new low for both her and comedy in general.

And then there's Ethan. Schwartzman, so good in Rushmore, is nothing if not game; he's a force of energy who'll do anything for a laugh. But in a world with too many real and dangerous idiots, a vindictive stalker is just not a funny guy.

Slackers

Starring Devon Sawa, Jason Schwartzman, James King

Directed by Dewey Nicks

Released by Screen Gems

Rated R (Adult language, sexual content, drug use, brief nudity)

Running time 87 minutes

Sun score *

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