The tagline for first-time director Dewey Nicks’ “Slackers” is “Higher education just hit a new a low.” Well, so did Hollywood.
In a simple-minded, puerile exercise in bad taste, Nicks wastes our money and time. It seems that the real slackers here are the cast and crew who willingly attached their names to this jumble of mechanical acting, awful writing, and human filth. Nicks’ two chances for redemption — “Rushmore’s” Jason Schwartzmann and “That 70’s Show’s” Laura Prepon — he shamelessly disgraces and abuses.
One look at the weak trailer reveals who Nicks is targeting: the teenage boy set. We have twin girls and their wiggling asses (complete with sound effects), slapstick comedy, and the laughable antics of three collegiate bad boys.
But wait, there’s even more to love. Like most trailers, this one provides only a snippet of what’s awaiting the unwitting audience — even shoddier filmmaking and a plot that hangs together by a thread. Three senior slackers who have pranked their way through college finally get caught by an unlikely, unlikeable kid named Cool Ethan (Schwartzmann). Ethan devises a not-so-clever blackmail scheme: unless the guys win him the affections of the dreamy and quite possibly perfect Angela (the earnest if uninspired James King), they get expelled.
So the boys get down to business. While two of them try to throw pretzels into each other’s mouths, the third man Dave (Devon Sawa) gets the lowdown on Angela, a blow job from her mom, and what do you know, he’s in love. You can just see the sparks sputter and die.
“Slackers,” as the name would imply, makes an art of mediocrity. Just as the “love” story between Dave and Angela couldn’t light a match, the film falls below the lowest standard of moviedom. It all begins with a watered-down opener, hazily filmed by cinematographer James Bagdonas and set to an unfortunate orchestral version of “Baba O’Riley.” So what if it’s probably a copyright issue, it still sucks. At least Nicks could have gotten a cover, since he did put in the effort to find a choir that can sing Ace of Base’s “I Saw the Sign.”
Bagdonas seems to be going for a hip, realistic, “Real World” look with his camera, but ends up shooting a stagey Mentos commercial. Even the doobie-inspired fantasy scenes, which look and feel just like the rest of the film but with more sex and naked women, lack visual oomph. The union of the film, the fantasies, and the bizarre flashbacks add up to one glaringly failed vision of what a movie should be.
About the sex and the naked women — it’s all completely gratuitous. And what’s worse is that it’s completely unpleasant. Nicks shamelessly posters the big screen with everything from a singing penis (“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” to be precise) to the fake, age-spotted breasts of a hospitalized hooker. Oh, and Cool Ethan sponge bathes her.
Schwartzmann’s character was clearly written to be a maniacal if pathetic stalker, but Schwartzmann reverts to his Max Fischer role from “Rushmore,” infusing Cool Ethan with a strange gentility. Unfortunately, this only draws attention to the inconsistencies of the role and the film. Like Cool Ethan, the other characters are utterly formless — we can’t feel one way or the other about them. The actors seem uncomfortable with their roles and each other, like they’re doing an icebreaker on the first day of drama class.
What hurts the actors most, however, is the unfunny writing. Most of the laughter in the audience came only because the joke was egregious, or utterly disgusting. Prepon suffers from delivering a series of bad jokes, though she does win a few honest if grossed-out laughs for her masturbation scene. Scwartzmann gets to wear Angela’s underwear on his head, pour wax on his member, and pee in the shower.
Fortunately Jason Segal of “Freaks and Geeks” fame comes out relatively unscathed as one of the pranksters — he may still have a career after this debacle. The worst he has to do is play an overwrought reconciliation scene with Sawa, in which he utilizes the satirical strung-out simplicity he mastered on television. Michael C. Maronna, another of the trio, coaxes laughter with his detached observations on college life. Like many of the other good performers, he has little screen time, most of which has him farting.
Nicks tries every trick in the book, including sex, toilet humor, slapstick, voice-overs, romance, and dream sequences, but nothing helps. “Slackers” seems to be a parody of its genre, but it is too entangled within the genre’s clich*s. And even the clich*s don’t work.
In conclusion, don’t see this movie. Not even on an airplane. “Slackers” may try to be hipper and edgier than your typical teen comedy, pushing the limits of MTV visuals and scatological humor, but instead it painfully stumbles and slumps to an uninspired end.