Film » Screens

Cheaters Never Win

Even with Schwartzman, Slackers swindles its audience.


Angela (James King) and "Cool Ethan" (Jason Schwartzman) forge an - improbable romance.
  • Angela (James King) and "Cool Ethan" (Jason Schwartzman) forge an improbable romance.
It's astonishing just how open Screen Gems has been about showing Slackers to the reviewing press well in advance of deadlines. Dim, youth-oriented sex comedies like this often slip into theaters under cover of darkness. The fact that a studio actually wants critics to see its college movie would seem like a good sign, especially since it features Rushmore star Jason Schwartzman in his first major role since that rightfully acclaimed 1999 Wes Anderson comedy.

Alas, Slackers sucks. It's so wretched, Schwartzman can't save it, though he tries mightily; a flash of nudity from Pearl Harbor babe and male-named model-turned-actress James King isn't even worth the price of a video rental down the line. There's the occasional noble attempt at deflating some teen-movie stereotypes, but they're undermined by a way-too-predictable climax.

The fundamental problem is one of audience identification, and the leads are all disagreeable. We're introduced to protagonists who pass the time by cheating: Dave (Idle Hands' Devon Sawa), the confident pretty face; Sam (Freaks and Geeks' Jason Segel), the mastermind; and Jeff (Michael C. Maronna, who played Stuart in the Ameritrade ads), the weirdo. They've reached their senior year by arranging elaborate scams that eliminate the need for any actual studying and instead require such a degree of deception, they don't have any close friends other than each other. That's not much of a problem: The trio hasn't yet realized there's more to life than junk food and video games.

But a woman comes along to screw up the male bonding. While taking an exam on Sam's behalf, Dave breaks protocol and gives out his phone number to a looker named Angela (King). His action catches the eye of hyperactive nerd "Cool Ethan" (Schwartzman), who's obsessed with Angela. Ethan confronts the cheaters and threatens to expose them unless they hook him up with the dream girl. Elaborate schemes ensue, and, as traditionally happens in such films, the nerd eventually catches the eye of the object of his desire.

There is a slight twist. Ethan appears amiable at first, but is swiftly revealed as a deranged stalker with a massive shrine to Angela in his house, complete with a collection of her hair woven into a doll. Though he's very amusing, he becomes impossible to root for once his unhinged side is revealed.

Which leaves us with the slackers for sympathetic characters, and they're not a real fun bunch. Sam's a whiny recluse, Jeff's a flatulent dead ringer for Spin Doctors frontman Chris Barron, and Dave's the epitome of the average college girl's poor taste in men. The movie may offer a more credible scenario than standard revenge-of-the-nerd fare, but the leads have to be more likable than this if we're to relate or care.

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