Are there any actors or actresses that you just don’t enjoy watching? Whose mere presence in a movie can be reason enough for you not to watch it? If there is one for me, it’s Jason Schwartzman. Nothing against him personally – I’m sure he’s a great guy – but the characters he plays are always so damned irritating that I just cannot bear to suffer through the experience. I’m trying to grow as a person, however, so I thought I’d give this one a try.
It sure isn’t Animal House.
Dave, Sam and Jeff are close to graduating from college without taking a single honest test in their whole lives. While running a scam in a mid-term, Dave is spotted by creepy stalker Ethan, who then blackmails the three into helping him get Angela, the object of his obsession, to go out with him. Unfortunately (and somewhat predictably) Dave falls for Angela himself. Unicycles, masturbation and a hair doll ensue.
The college comedy is a sub-genre that has never really garnered the same devotion in the UK as it has in the US. It’s a cultural thing; the difference between college and university is more than just spelling. Off the top of my head I can only think of two British-made university comedies: Starter For Ten with James McAvoy, and that one with Kate Mara where a bunch of students from Scotland go to London to steal the Stone of Scone (I couldn’t even remember the title without looking it up. It was called Stone of Destiny – cheers IMDB). Of course I’m sure there are more; this is just to illustrate my point. The fact is that American college comedies have a much richer foundation to build from, what with all that fraternity and sorority stuff.
Devon Sawa heads the cast as Dave, the smart, confident and capable de-facto leader of The Trio alongside Jason Segel as Sam (the tall one) and Michael Maronna as Jeff (the ambiguously gay one). As Dave is the romantic lead, he is the one that gets the most in terms of character development, leaving the other two somewhat out in the cold. Jason Schwartzman is Ethan, the disturbingly obsessive creep. He is very good in the role, as similar as it is to other films he has been in. These parts are too annoying for me to handle when he plays the lead, but as the antagonist – particularly as exaggerated as he is here – he is much more tolerable. Jamie King is the third point of the love triangle as Angela. She’s beautiful and all, but the character is kind of an empty shell. This isn’t King’s fault; Angela just isn’t a very well-written role.
David H Steinberg’s script leans towards the more surreal end of the comedy spectrum, with random cutaways and fantasy sequences all over the place, and plenty of non sequitur visual gags (such as Angela’s roommate’s gimp). This is also one of the most aggressively sexual college movies of recent years, featuring as it does more than one masturbation scene as well as Ethan giving a “sponge bath” to a topless (and 71-year-old) Mamie Van Doren. Steinberg always seems to prefer the shock, gross-out laugh. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Considering the director is renowned photographer and commercials director Dewey Nicks, the movie looks just like any other flick of the genre. It doesn’t have any flair visually, but the pacing is solid and the story keeps moving at a fair clip.
If I had watched Slackers with a bunch of friends when it was first released in 2002 (when I was near enough the same age as the protagonists), chances are I would have got a lot more from it. Unfortunately now, with so many better examples of the type in my head, it just doesn’t quite measure up. But that’s me. If you are between 18 and 22ish, have at it. On a quality scale of one to ten, I’d say Slackers falls somewhere between Van Wilder and Van Wilder 2. Illustrious company indeed.