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Sophomoric humor

Looking for a classy film? Skip the crude and derivative college comedy Slackers.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2002


Looking for a classy film? Skip the crude and derivative college comedy Slackers.

Hollywood surrenders on weekends when something like the Super Bowl is likely to keep people closer to TV sets than theaters. Opening a good movie when nobody's around would be a waste.

The industry needs to look busy, so movies like Slackers fill the marquee void. Like the so-called heroes of Dewey Nicks' alleged comedy, Hollywood is doing as little as it takes to skate by.

Slackers is the latest bastardization of Animal House, in which college students smart enough to make good grades use that intelligence to be morons. This time it's a trio of Gap Generation con artists stealing test questions with Mission: Impossible elan. Dave (Devon Sawa) is the ringleader while Jeff (Michael Maronna) and Sam (Jason Segel) are merely clowns.

Their activities are sniffed out by a pushy nerd named Ethan, played by Jason Schwartzman, making all the wrong acting moves he avoided while playing a similar role in the far superior Rushmore. Ethan will snitch unless the boys arrange a date for him and the girl of his dreams, Angela (James King). Dave, however, falls for her, setting up a series of mean-spirited pranks and double-crosses that would bore Tom Green.

It's the kind of wisecracking, attention-grabbing humor that might be funny to Bourbon Street bystanders on a wild night, but you don't pay $7 to see it there. There's an art to disruption that such amateurs seldom consider but filmmakers always should. Nicks doesn't possess the subversive flair of Wes Anderson, and David H. Steinberg's script is a crusty casserole of crudeness yelled by a cast of actors too young to be slumming like this.

Nicks hired aren't-they-dead-yet stars Leigh Taylor Young and Mamie Van Doren to do that. Both play grotesquely oversexed versions of Stifler's mom in American Pie. A cameo by Cameron Diaz puts her in dubious company. Schwartzman, who seemed so promising in Rushmore, gives an irritating, arm-flapping performance as overbearing as his eyebrows. At least he's energetic compared to Sawa, whose pinup looks are morphing into Mark Hamill.

Slackers just might make football fans of us all. Dude, where's my remote control?

Slackers

Grade: D

Director: Dewey Nicks

Cast: Devon Sawa, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Maronna, James King, Jason Segel

Screenplay: David H. Steinberg

Rating: R; profanity, sexual situations, nudity, drug abuse

Running time: 87 min.

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