Considering how much trouble Kyle Newman's Fanboys has withstood in its travels to the multiplexes, I pretty much expected the flick to be an amiable mess. It's been widely reported that the comedy was plagued by multiple reshoots, numerous release date changes, and a producer who (at least temporarily) wanted to suck the heart and soul right out of the flick. So as I walked into an early preview of Fanboys at San Diego Comic-Con, I was hopeful -- but frankly I wasn't expecting a big winner. But hey, aside from a few flat stretches here and there, Fanboys actually has a lot to offer: Strong chemistry among four funny young actors, a "road trip" conceit that flows along quite smoothly, and more Star Wars references than you hardcore geeks will know what to do with. So what I expected to be a big fat mess of a movie turned out to be pretty dang fun -- quadruply so if you happen to be a Star Wars fanatic.
The story is as simple as a road movie needs: Inspired by the unfortunate news that one of their pals is dying of cancer, three hardcore Star Wars geeks decide to travel from Ohio to California, break into Skywalker Ranch, and steal an early print of The Phantom Menace, which isn't due to hit theaters for another six months. (Yes, Fanboys is a period piece: It takes place in 1998.) Sure, that's a pretty broad and silly idea on which to hang a whole movie -- but Fanboys isn't really about logical actions and realistic adventures: It's about four Lucas disciples who get into a series of odd misadventures as they trek* across the country to steal themselves some Star Wars.
(* One of the movie's funniest subplots involves an ongoing war between our Star Wars fanboys, and a nasty group of mega-Trekkies -- the most obnoxious one played by a nearly unrecognizable Seth Rogen. As usual, Rogen steals a handful of scenes without breaking a sweat.) If Fanboys suffers from a few of the more conventional trappings of the road movie sub-genre -- do we really need another accidental trip into a gay bar? -- it succeeds quite highly on the backs of its lead actors. Jay Baruchel (the awkward one), Dan Fogler (the sloppy one), Chris Marquette (the dying one), and Sam Huntington (the mature one) strike a really smooth and affable chemistry together, especially when they're busy debating the most moronic Star Wars minutiae you can possibly imagine.
Plus the flick is populated by almost a dozen clever little cameos from the likes of Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Danny McBride, Christopher McDonald, David Denman, Bill Hader, Ethan Suplee, Ray Park, Danny Trejo, and the immortal William Shatner. (And Shatner is always good for a few laughs.) The highlight of the cast is probably the lovable geekette Kristen Bell, who bails our heroes out of a scrape, tags along for the road trip, and adds a good deal of class and cuteness to a mostly boy-laden affair. (Plus, wow, Ms. Bell in a Slave Leia costume? Might be worth the price of admission right there.)
Basically, it's a scrappy little comedy, and some of its production woes may seep onto the screen a couple of times -- but if you're judging a movie based on how well it speaks to its target audience, I'd say Fanboys succeeds quite strongly. It's a basic enough story populated by colorful characters who play off one another quite humorously, and for a movie like this, that's more than enough. It was written and directed by guys who clearly love Star Wars a lot, but can also poke a little fun at The Saga at the same time. Considering how much trouble this movie had in getting to the screen, the fact that it doesn't straight-out suck is cause for fanboy celebration, but the fact that it's actually quite a solid little movie is, frankly, pretty darn shocking.