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Geek Chic? Not Exactly

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The story of director Kyle Newman’s struggle to bring his Star Wars-inspired comedy Fanboys to the screen is almost as compelling as the Rebel Alliance’s bid to derail the Evil Empire.

Newman's low-budget tale of four friends traveling cross-country in hopes of catching an unauthorized sneak preview of The Phantom Menace was written roughly a decade ago, when such an idea might have seemed worthwhile. However, he encountered a Darth Vader all his own - studio head Harvey Weinstein - who gutted the movie’s script and delayed its release for years.

Rather than sheepishly accepting the fate of his second feature, as many young, easily bullied directors might have done, Newman aired his grievances in a series of scalding interviews. Before long, a grassroots campaign waged by Web-savvy Star Wars aficionados was underfoot, denouncing “Darth Weinstein” and demanding a restoration of Fanboys to its original form, complete with a sobering subplot about a fan afflicted with terminal cancer.

The Weinstein Company bowed to the pressure and now, ten years after Menace first stormed into theaters, comes Newman’s affectionate chronicle of the hysteria that preceded its release.

Newman has said that the theatrical cut of Fanboys, which incorporates some of Weinstein’s changes but remains mostly true to the spirit of Ernest Cline and Adam Goldberg’s script, is the best he’s seen. If that’s true, I fail to see what the fuss was about. There are plenty of no-budget movies worthy of grassroots movements. Fanboys, which comes with a built-in fan base only by virtue of its connection to a universe George Lucas created, isn’t one of them.

Ironically, the subplot Newman fought tooth and nail to preserve represents one of the movie’s most egregious missteps. Linus (Chris Marquette), who has long dreamed of crashing the Lucas Ranch, is dying of cancer, giving his friends (fellow Ohio-based Star Wars dweebs played by Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler and Sam Huntington) the perfect excuse for a road trip. What follows is a litany of well-worn misadventures: awkward run-ins at a gay biker bar; an evening of mescaline-induced hallucinations; and a showdown with a gang of nerdier-than-thou Trekkies led by Seth Rogen.

There is nothing here plausible enough to lend life-or-death urgency to such a silly quest, much less something as scattershot and embarrassingly juvenile as Fanboys. Linus’ cancer is touched on only in brief, leaving his pals -- particularly Fogler, a deft, high-energy physical comedian who will inevitably draw comparisons to Jack Black -- to mug and monkey around for the camera. The results are tame and routinely unfunny, though there are noteworthy cameos by the likes of Carrie Fischer, Kevin Smith, Billy Dee Williams and even the voice of Lucas himself.