Please forgive the hastiness of this re-view. Due to unforeseen and completely understandable reasons, our original re-viewer for this week had to bow out. While under the circumstances I would normally let the week slide by without an entry in the 10YA project, I had enough time today to wander down to Scarecrow Video and pick up another movie celebrating its tenth anniversary and take over. Additionally, I was able to rope my extremely busy grad student wife into a late-morning viewing (while she graded papers, of course) on the promise of more Jason Segel and Jason Schwartzman film knowledge.

What I believe I neglected to mention to my wife, though, is that Slackers is an awkward, uncomfortable, unpleasant movie, that despite a few well-earned laughs (mostly of the WTF variety), this is a difficult movie to enjoy, even when watched ironically (which you should never do, you cynical knaves). I’m fine that she was able to quickly tune out most of the film’s tackiness, because she was still capable of engaging with its early-millennium humor. (Does anybody remember Tomcats?) This is good for me, because the best conversations I have with Stevi tend to occur while watching/discussing ugly or pointless entertainment. And nowadays, many things fall under both categories.

Slackers simply doesn’t work anymore, even less than it did in the first place. Any nostalgia I had for its crassness now seems useless in retrospect, because the point of this film’s crassness isn’t to transcend its own bad taste (e.g. the Farrelly Brothers pre-Shallow Hal) but to exist solely to shock. Gross for its own sake. And once you’ve seen Jason Schwartzman sponge bathe a nude Mamie Van Doren and call her a dirty old whore, the magic is gone, because you can only lose that part of your soul once.

I think my issue with this film, despite remembering that I once enjoyed it, is that it’s too mean to enjoy as an easygoing comedy but not gutsy enough to go the full dark comedy route. It’s a sitcom episode type of story (one of those pointless third-season-or-later B-stories only meant to carry some supporting characters along) that unintentionally stumbles into blacker, creepier territory. Part of this is the anti-charm of the central performance, which falls smack dab in the middle of Devon Sawa’s post-Little Giants-pre-Nikita career confusion, and his hero often comes off as more devious than rakish, even when the plot calls for more of the latter. (This is a romantic comedy, after all.) The other part is Schwartzman’s utter dedication to making Cool Ethan a truly despicable individual, even when he should be more bumbling than criminally sociopathic. Sawa and Schwartzman are willing to go there (Schwartzman much more so, being the better actor), but the rest of the movie isn’t. Even a game Laura Prepon, who tries desperately to play a wild and uninhibited character, can’t follow through and reverts back to the more family-friendly Donna Pinciotti whenever her character isn’t swearing.

And yet, I still like seeing Devon Sawa in anything. I was happy to see Schwartzman again before he settled into his earned indie sainthood. And hey, there’s Michael Maronna (Big Pete from The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Jeff McCallister in Home Alone) farting constantly.

Oh, to be 19 and innocent again.

Free-Floating Thoughts:

Love the opening instrumental version of “Baba O’Reilly.” The film subsequently goes straight to hell.

More in the “Hey! Good to see you in this film!” file: Jim Rash as a professor, Nat Faxon as a grad student, Retta (Parks & Recreation) as an office manager, Michael McDonald (MADtv), Joe Flaherty, Todd Giebenhain (Raising Hope)

This is the alternate universe where Marshall Eriksen never meets Ted Mosby and Lily Aldrin in college, and thus falls in with the wrong crowd. And Laura Prepon, who also had her own How I Met Your Mother arc, is a less-uppity version of Ted Mosby’s college ex-girlfriend.

Upon seeing Jason Segel in drag, Stevi expressed her interest in him playing Frank-N-Furter one day.

Dewey Nicks, the director, stages and edits these scenes in such a chaotic fashion that vital bits of dialogue (mostly those of the expository variety) are almost completely glossed over. It’s not a surprise he never helmed another film.

Iomega Zip drives!

The campus is a mixture of UC Riverside and the University of Redlands. Some of you SoCal people probably know some things about either of those campuses. I do not.

It’s a strange choice in making Schwartzman’s geek character the antagonist, when with just a few tweaks – you know, like him not being a creep in possession of a hair doll – he’s clearly the hero.

“So you fingered an old lady?”

The sub-porn film score is atrocious.

This lies in a difficult middle ground between the teen comedies that followed the John Hughes antisocial introverts and those that follow the more outgoing, clever, popular types. Its shifts in tone are too jarring to work.

Ah yes, the scene where Big Pete sings a duet with his erect and be-socked penis. How could I forget?

IMDb trivia: “Originally in the singing penis scene, Mike Maronna’s own naked penis was used with a CGI mouth added in. After being screened for the MPAA however, the filmmakers were told to put a son on it (literally).”

“Ethan, that’s a troll.”

“Gnome, it’s not.”

Being a fashion photographer and commercial director (I’m going solely off IMDb’s one fact about the director, and nothing else!), Nicks at least gives a few scenes a pretty sheen, like Devon Sawa and James King makeout session in the pool. It also allows for yeah-I’ll-do-this-as-a-favor cameos from Gina Gershon and Cameron Diaz, both of whom appear twitchingly uncomfortable when they’re on camera.

Ah. This film spent 18 months in the can before it was released, and then apparently left theatres after only two weeks. That’s okay, since it was clearly designed for those who prefer home video and mass quantities of alcohol.

I unironically love Ace of Base. That means that the three minutes sequence set to “The Sign” in this movie is absolutely perfect.

Kane Hodder? Who the hell did Kane Hodder do stuntwork for in this movie? Mamie Van Doren?

Aaaaaaand the movie ends with an outtake of Jason Schwartzman calling Cameron Diaz a bitch. Classy.

From Ebert’s review:

This film knows no shame.

Consider a scene where the heroine’s roommate, interrupted while masturbating, continues even while a man she has never met is in the room. Consider a scene where the hero’s roommate sings a duet with a sock puppet on his penis. Consider a scene where we cut away from the hero and the heroine to join two roommates just long enough for a loud fart, and then cut back to the main story again.

And consider a scene where Mamie Van Doren, who is 71 years old, plays a hooker in a hospital bed who bares her breasts so that the movie’s horny creep can give them a sponge bath. On the day when I saw “Slackers,” there were many things I expected and even wanted to see in a movie, but I confess Mamie Van Doren’s breasts were not among them.

From Mick LaSalle’s review:

The above description sounds like the basis for an unpleasant thriller. It sounds like a prelude to violence. Instead it’s the central plot line of “Slackers,” a discordant comedy that gives bad taste a bad name.

From Nathan Rabin’s review:

A nonstop assault on Schwartzman’s dignity disguised as a freewheeling college farce.