Star Wars: The Last Jedi


In any Star Wars film sparks will fly and stuff will burn.

(2017) Science Fiction (Disney) Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Frank Oz, Benicio Del Toro, Justin Theroux, Billie Lourd, Joonas Suotomo, Amanda Lawrence, Jimmy Vee, Veronica Ngo. Directed by Rian Johnson

In the annals of all things cinematic, no film franchise has ever elicited as much anticipation as the Star Wars franchise has with every film that’s come out since the first one. Say what you want about their fandom, they are among the most loyal of any fanbase for just about anything anywhere; many of its fans go back to the first 1977 film forty years before the latest one came out.

And there are no signs of the franchise slowing down anytime soon. Not only is there a standalone Han Solo film coming out this summer, but earlier this year it was announced that another trilogy has been approved by Disney (to nobody’s surprise) after the current trilogy concludes next year. Rian Johnson, director of this episode, will be overseeing it although whether that means he will be directing all three of the films, writing them or acting more like a kind of Yoda for the filmmakers who will be involved with the fourth trilogy remains to be seen.

While this is the longest of the films to date, for the most part it doesn’t seem that way thanks to incredible special effects which have become and remained the norm for the series. Like The Force Awakens there seems like a lot of story lines that were cobbled from other films in the series (a last stand on an ice planet? C’mon, guys) and elsewhere. On top of that there are all sorts of threads going on here and while they seem to reach a conclusion, it still feels like we’re slogging through story more than we should be.

But there is a whole lot to like about the movie as well. One of the main things is Mark Hamill. He has delivered one of his best performances ever and certainly his best Luke Skywalker ever. I worried early on that he would be curmudgeonly “get off my lawn” Luke for the whole movie but thankfully he shows some growth, particularly in the final act. The film ends on a grace note that is as magical a moment as you’ll find in the entire series.

There are other fine performances and storylines here but Ridley as Rey was not as compelling as she was previously. Boyega also seems to be written as kind of a one-note character. Laura Dern is a welcome addition to the Star Wars Universe, giving a performance that matches some of the veteran cast members note for note. Oscar Isaac seems to be developing into a very interesting character and the storyline with Rose (Tran) was one of the best in the film. However, I think the movie will be long-remembered for being Carrie Fisher’s last appearance as Princess Lea (Episode IX director J.J. Abrams has stated that Fisher won’t be appearing in any form in that movie).

On the other hand, there’s Snoke, the Supreme Leader of the First Order who is played via motion capture by the great Andy Serkis. When you have maybe the best motion capture performer of all time to utilize it seems a bloody shame to use so little of him. He is almost casually dispatched early in the movie which may end up being a tactical error or not. The Emperor surrogate role now falls to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren who may not be wholly evil after all as Anakin Skywalker was. But can anyone be both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine at once? That remains to be seen.

This is superior entertainment and helped 2017 end on a record-breaking note. While many fans sniped over some of the story points (even Hamill reportedly wasn’t happy about the direction his charcter was taking) there’s no doubt that the franchise is as healthy as it ever was. Most people reading this have likely already seen the film multiple times in the theaters and await with varying degrees of eagerness for it to become available for their home collections. Well, so is this critic.

REASONS TO GO: As always, the special effects are as breathtaking as any in the movies. The action sequences are also top of the line. Hamill delivers his best performance of the series.
REASONS TO STAY: The buildup for Snoke led to somewhat of a letdown. The story is unnecessarily convoluted and once again feels like it was borrowed from other episodes..
FAMILY VALUES: As you would expect from a film of this franchise there is all sorts of action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to playing Luke Skywalker, Hamill also played a CGI character who can be seen putting money into BB-8 during the casino scene.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Scorched Earth

New Releases for the Week of December 15, 2017


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis.  Directed by Rian Johnson

Rey, having utilized some of her nascent Jedi powers, has found Luke Skywalker but he is unwilling to teach any more disciples the secrets of the Force. At last, begrudgingly, he is convinced but the more Rey discovers about the Force the more she discovers about her mysterious past.

See the trailer and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D, RPX, D-Box, Dolby Atmos
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for scenes of sci-fi action and violence)

Ferdinand

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson. A big-hearted bull is mistaken for a wild beast and brought to the arena to be a fighting bull. Knowing that he won’t come out of the arena alive, he attempts an escape to get back home where he belongs along with his misfit friends.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard 
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude humor, action and some thematic elements)

Wonder Wheel

(Focus) Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justine Timberlake. Four lives intersect in the Coney Island of the 1950s; an emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam joint; her rough and tumble carousel operator husband; a lifeguard with dreams of becoming a playwright and the estranged daughter of the waitress and her husband who is hiding out from gangsters in her father’s apartment.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Love Ni Bhavi
The Tribes of Palos Verdes

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Dealt
Love Ni Bhavi
Oro
The Shape of Water
The Tribes of Palos Verdes
Youth

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hedgehogs
Love Ni Bhavi

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Unrest

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Ferdinand
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Unrest

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Home at last!

Home at last!

(2015) Science Fiction (Disney) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, Simon Pegg, Pip Torrens, Greg Grunberg, Kiran Shah, Andrew Jack, Warwick Davis, Sasha Frost. Directed by JJ Abrams

So, no joke, this is the cinematic event of the year – and one of the biggest event movies ever. Certainly it’s box office explosion, mowing down box office records like so many innocent civilians at the hands of Stormtroopers, gives credence to that. People weren’t just excited to see it – they were absolutely insane to see it. Many have gone back and seen it three or four or more times since it opened. But is it worth all the hype?

As the iconic opening crawl informs us, thirty years has passed since the Empire has fallen and the Republic was re-established. From the ashes of the Empire has risen the First Order, run by the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) who appears via hologram as kind of a gigantic mummified cross between Abe Lincoln and C3PO (Daniels). Who appears later on in the film. C3PO, not Abe Lincoln.

I digress. Everyone is looking for Luke Skywalker (Hamill), the last Jedi Knight who has disappeared after some sort of catastrophe involving training new Jedi Knights that went horribly wrong. The First Order wants to stop him from doing what the Resistance (tacitly supported by the Republic) want him to do – to lead them to victory against the First Order. To that end, they have sent cocky pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) to the desert world Jakku to retrieve a map which leads to Skywalker. However, the First Order led by their Sith-like leader Kylo Ren (Driver) show up and Dameron is forced to give the chip containing the map to his trusty droid BB8 (kind of like a Beach Ball with the top of a droid on it – perhaps that’s what BB stands for) and sends him rolling off to the nearest settlement. He’s captured and interrogated but eventually rescued by Fin (Boyega), a Stormtrooper who develops a conscience.

BB8 discovers Rey (Ridley), a metal scavenger who has been on her own since her parents left her on Jakku to fend for herself. In the meantime, Fin and Dameron get separated and Fin finds Rey and BB8 but with the Emp…er, First Order hot on their heels, they escape in what turns out to be a familiar spaceship.

Once away they run into familiar faces and new ones, and discover that an all-new and improved solar-powered Death Star is getting ready to do its worst. The new Resistance heroes must go to this new weapon and destroy it, but that is no easy task, even with the old Rebellion heroes on their side.

After the prequel trilogy left the Star Wars fandom and moviegoers in general underwhelmed, I can safely say that this had a pretty high bar to meet, but it has done so in spades. Frankly put, this is one of the best movies of the year and I never thought I’d say that about a Star Wars film. As you’d expect, the special effects are marvelous and mostly achieved through practical means. However, there’s more to the film than that.

Let’s talk about the story a little bit. Some have complained that there are too many similar elements to the very first film, which is now titled Episode IV: A New Hope in canon. That’s a pretty fair complaint and it is occasionally distracting, but the storylines aren’t terribly identical. I do wish they’d used something other than a desert planet to open the movie with although I suspect that the universe has more desert planets than those with greenery. But one can have a fairly barren terrain without having the same sand dunes that characterized Tatooine. However, the important thing is that the story has retained that epic quality that characterized the first trilogy (not the prequels so much).

That said, the acting here is marvelous. Ford in particular brings Han Solo back to life, giving him the same gruff, roguish qualities in the first trilogy but tempering it with melancholy – there have been events in his life since the fall of the Empire that have been bitter and some even tragic. Not all of those are gone into with much detail, but let’s just say that as a father and a husband he makes a good smuggler.

Ridley and Boyega, who share the heroic role, both show a good deal of screen charisma and promise as the new kids on the block. They both realize they don’t have to carry the film, but something tells me either one or both could if they had to. Boyega, particularly, has an incredible amount of potential, not just here but in all of the films he’s been in. His character is the most interesting one of the new ones, although Kylo Ren has some definite Daddy issues that no doubt are going to develop into something else.

The movie moves along at breakneck speed; even the pauses are well-placed and well-paced. It’s not a short movie but it never feels long. Considering all the expectations that were heaped on this property that Disney paid $4 billion for, it’s good to see that for once not only were those expectations met but exceeded. Looks like Disney has gotten an excellent return on their investment.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular! Recaptures everything about the first trilogy that made it great. Will appeal to kids and adults as well. Surprisingly good performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Story a little too much like the very first movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sci-fi violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Abrams preferred to use actual locations and practical effects over green screen and CGI in order to be more aesthetically similar to the first trilogy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Hitchcock/Truffaut

New Releases for the Week of December 18, 2015


Star Wars Episode VII The Force AwakensSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Max von Sydow, John Boyega, Simon Pegg, Lupita Nyong’o. Directed by J.J. Abrams

The wait is finally over as the most eagerly anticipated movie in maybe a decade finally debuts in theaters and everyone is going gaga over it. I’d give a plot summary here but does it really matter? The reviews have been strong, word of mouth is as usual critical from the fanboys and aging fans are reliving their youth all over the globe, and that can’t be a bad thing. Merry Christmas, Disney accountants!

See the trailer, promos, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip

(20th Century Fox) Jason Lee, Justin Long (voice), Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Matthew Gray Gubler (voice). The chipmunks and Dave take their act on the road. Just as long as it takes them away from wherever I am.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and brief suggestive material)

The Assassin

(Well Go USA) Qi Shu, Chen Chang, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Dahong Ni. A young woman, abducted as a child from her home by a general of the army, trained into adulthood to be an assassin, is ordered to kill the man she is betrothed to. She must discover why she was chosen for this job and in doing so confront her past before she makes the choice to leave the only life she’s ever known or murder the only man she’s ever loved.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Bajirao Mastani

(Eros International) Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Mahesh Manjrekar. In ancient India, a cunning general and his second wife are fated to be caught in events that are sweeping through the sub-continent. This true story has the production values of an epic and may be one of the most sumptuously filmed movies to ever come out of that country.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance Adventure
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Citiplex, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Dilwale

(Red Chillies) Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Kriri Sanon, Varun Dhawan. A little bit like Romeo and Juliet, two families that compete in business, in politics and in just about everything else are separated when one family moves away. Fifteen years afterwards, the children meet again and sparks fly – as well as romantic ones.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Hitchcock/Truffaut

(Cohen) Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Matthieu Amalric (voice), Martin Scorsese. One of the most influential books in the history of filmmaking is the interview between French New Wave director Truffaut and the Master of Suspense Hitchcock. Two of the all-time best in the business (many say Hitchcock was the best) talk about directing with a candidness that they might never have given during a mainstream interview. The book made from the interview has influenced many of the greatest directors of this generation; excerpts from the original interviews and commentary on what the book meant to their careers are included.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive material and violent images)

Sisters

(Universal) Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, John Cena, Maya Rudolph. Two very different sisters – one a divorced mouse, the other a single party animal, come home to discover their parents are putting their childhood home up for sale. Distraught, they decide to relive their glory years one last time with a blow-out party that will perhaps provide the catharsis they need and the laughs that we need.

See the trailer, clips, a promo, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use)

Scream 3


We've seen this movie before.

We’ve seen this movie before.

(2000) Horror Comedy (Dimension) Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox-Arquette, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber, Patrick Dempsey, Lance Henriksen, Kelly Rutherford, Parker Posey, Emily Mortimer, Jenny McCarthy, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Deon Richmond, Patrick Warburton, Jamie Kennedy, Heather Matarazzo, Carrie Fisher, Scott Foley, Julie Janney. Directed by Wes Craven

As one character says, in the third installment of a trilogy, all bets are off. That can be a good thing and bad – it gives you the freedom to deviate from the course set by the first two films but sometimes lose the essence of what made them successful in the first place. Perhaps that’s why so few of them are really that successful, both artistically and financially.

Talk show host Cotton Weary (Schreiber), the man accused of the murder of Sydney Prescott’s (Campbell) mother (and later exonerated by the events of the first movie), is brutally killed in his apartment, and of course intrepid (and irritating) journalist Gail Weathers (Cox-Arquette) is on the case. Meanwhile over in Woodsboro a movie called Stab 3 is being shot.

Soon, cast members of the third movie of a series of movies based on the events in Scream (talk about art imitating art) are beginning to turn up dead, in the exact order that they are bumped off in the script. Former deputy-turned-technical advisor to the movie Dewey Riley (Arquette), in his own laconic way, is out to protect his friend Sydney, as well as rekindle a romance with Gail, with whom he has broken up twice (art imitating life, kind of). Sydney, for her part, has secreted herself in an isolated, rural home with lots of high-tech security. Still, even Dewey can’t protect her from the visions of her dead mother and for the most part, from the Ghostface killer who continues to stalk her.

Much of Scream 3 is pretty formulaic and is just the kind of movie, ironically, that the original Scream poked fun of. Although Craven deviates here from the tradition of murdering a lovely young starlet before the opening credits (a la Drew Barrymore and Jada Pinkett) by taking out Schreiber, they do manage to send Jenny McCarthy to join the Choir Invisible, getting a hearty “Amen!” from critics everywhere. We critics are a vindictive lot.

Still, director Wes Craven knows how to yank out all the stops, but the loss of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who penned the first two Screams, is keenly felt (he would return for the fourth installment). This one doesn’t have the hipness quotient, the humor, or the insight into horror movies that Williamson has. I didn’t guess who the killer was, but by the time the identity of the killer behind the Edvard Munch mask is revealed, I pretty much didn’t care.

Although not bad by the standards of horror movies of the late 90s and early part of the following decade, Scream 3 belongs in the clutches of the robots of Mystery Science Theater 3000 which puts it far beneath the standards of the first two movies. That’s a little too much painful irony for my taste. At the time that this came out, I thought it was just as well Craven decided to bury the franchise at that point, since the corpse was smelling mighty bad. Scream 4 was a bit of a redemption but not enough to make up for this, the worst installment of the franchise to date – although it DOES get points for the Jay and Silent Bob cameo. Craven knows hip when he sees it. Honestly though, once you’ve seen the first two movies in the series you’re pretty much done.

WHY RENT THIS: Jay and Silent Bob show up. Seriously, that’s about it. There are some fans of the series who are very affectionate about this movie though.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there, done that, done better.

FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of violence and foul language although not as much as in earlier films of the series.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” is played at some point in all three films of the original trilogy.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a music video by Creed, an outtake reel and a montage of footage from all three films (fittingly set to “Red Right Hand”).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $161.8M on a $40M production budget; the movie was a big hit for Miramax/Dimension.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scary Movie (only unintentionally funny)

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Brother’s Justice

Sorority Row


Sorority Row

Most sorority sisters will tell you that a sorority house is just a series of excuses to dress up in lingerie.

(2009) Slasher Horror (Summit) Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Audrina Partridge, Carrie Fisher, Julian Morris, Margo Harshman, Matt O’Leary. Directed by Stewart Hendler

The slasher movie is a time-honored tradition that usually involves a mysterious, hooded or masked maniac, lots of women in lingerie, bikinis, miniskirts or nothing at all and a series of grisly but imaginative murders. The 1983 opus The House on Sorority Row combined all of these elements and while not a classic of the genre, was certainly one of its better moments.

Flash forward to 2009 and an all-new rendition of it, mostly starring ladies from television shows (Audrina Partridge from “The Hills,” Leah Pipes from “Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles”) or low-rent movies (Briana Evigan from Step Up 2, Jamie Chung from Dragonball: Evolution) with daughters of the famous (Rumer Willis – daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Evigan – daughter of “BJ and the Bear’s” Greg Evigan). It would seem to be a winning mix.

The sisters of the Theta Pi sorority at Rosman College (the original party school) decide to pull a stunt on the cheating boyfriend of Megan (Partridge) by convincing him that the date rape drug they supplied him with had caused an overdose, after which they would have to dispose of the body. This takes place at a sorority house party in which ingénues in lingerie stage beer chugging contests, pillow fights in a scenario that could only take place in the fevered imagination of an adolescent male who yearns for the opportunity to see a bare breast up close and personal – or the mind of a cynical Hollywood screenwriter who is catering to him.

The prank goes horribly wrong when the panicky frat boy, wanting to make sure the “dead” Megan is truly dead, shoves a tire iron into her chest with lethal force. The shocked sisters are bullied by Jessica (Pipes), the queen bee of the crew, to toss the body down the mine shaft (which was what they had convinced the frat boy they were going to do in the first place) and Never Speak of This Again to Anybody. Yeah, right – as if. Cassidy (Evigan), the brainy one who has the closest thing to a moral center at first refuses but is peer pressured into reluctantly agreeing to it.

Months later as the group prepares for their graduation party, they begin to get text messages from the victims’ cell phone. Could it be Megan – back from the dead and seeing revenge? Or maybe her creepy sister, who has turned up unexpectedly?  In any case, sisters start turning up sliced and diced by a mysterious hooded figure wielding a tire iron. Now that’s what I call a party.

The clichés are abounding here, and director Hendler doesn’t seem much disposed to straying beyond them. Mostly, the girls have little to do but wear clothes that say less college sorority girl and more slut and scream periodically. While I admit it’s nice to see Carrie Fisher onscreen (as the feisty house mother whose best line is “Do you think you scare me? I run a house with fifty bitches in it!”), the part is so very beneath her. You’d think that Princess Leia would be able to get better parts.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Carlos – this is a slasher movie. Nobody goes to see it for the acting – their target audience just wants boobs and really clever murders, the more gruesome the better. While there are plenty of boobs, where the movie fails to deliver is on the murders. The payoffs are rarely there and even the build-ups are pretty lame. Yes, a couple of the murders are nicely done but the bulk of them are rather anticlimactic. That’s not a word you want to use when describing a slasher flick.

The fact that the movie was profitable is owed more to its low production cost rather than its quality. A word to prospective producers of slasher movies; think how much more profitable your movies would be if you threw a well-scripted, well-executed movie with exciting murder scenes on top of the breasts and lingerie? This movie demonstrates that the market is there for it. Now we just need some filmmakers to deliver on it; unfortunately, these didn’t.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice scares and a couple of really well-done murders. It’s nice to see Fisher onscreen, even though it’s in a role that’s clearly beneath her.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The concept has been done to death and the movie doesn’t particularly bring anything new to the table. While there are a few good scares, mostly it’s just gruesome.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, plenty of gore, sexuality and nudity, foul language, teen drinking – pretty much the whole gamut.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rosman College, the setting for the movie, is named for Mark Rosman, who wrote and directed the 1983 original and is an executive producer on this film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $27.2M on a $12.5M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Mechanic (2011)

Fanboys


Fanboys

Fanboys on the outside looking in.

(2008) Comedy (Weinstein) Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Carrie Fisher, Danny Trejo, Billy Dee Williams, Seth Rogen, Allie Grant, William Shatner. Directed by Kyle Newman

Fans have a kind of sweet madness. I’m not talking about the people who follow something on a casual basis; I mean the full-out, balls-to-the-wall, obsessive, dangerously knowledgeable super-fans; the kind that show up at conventions and name their kids after characters in the movies.

This specific fandom that Fanboys is examining is the Star Wars fans. The movie is set in 1998, just prior to the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and arguably the best time to be a fan of the series – when anticipation had fans jumping out of their skins waiting for the new movie, the first in more than 15 years.

Four school friends who hadn’t been together since graduation meet up at a party; Eric (Huntington), the lone respectable one who was working for his dad’s car dealership which he was expected to take over some day; Hutch (Fogler) who lives in his mom’s “carriage house” (read: garage), Windows (Baruchel) a computer nerd who has a thing for a chat room geek he’s never met and Linus (Marquette), who is somewhat angry about the way things turned out.

It turns out he has plenty of reason to be angry; he has cancer and won’t live to see the next movie in the franchise released. Eric, who was once his best friend, resumes that role and decides that his friend WILL see the movie before anyone else does. The four of them – and Zoe (Bell), a very cool friend that frequents the comic book store Hutch and Windows work at and quite possibly the only girl that could hang with these guys – will drive from Ohio to Marin County, California where Skywalker Ranch is located, break in and watch the movie. Windows’ online crush even claims she can get them the plans to the Ranch which is legendary for its security.

They take off in Hutch’s tricked out van, a kind of rolling convention on wheels, and head vaguely West. On the way they will encounter evil Star Trek fans, the all-knowing Harry Knowles (of Ain’t It Cool News fame) and William Shatner himself as they race the clock to get their dying friend to the ranch. Will it be worth the trip?

Of course, we all know at this point in time that The Phantom Menace was a disappointment but back then the possibilities were endless. The world of fans was anticipating what they thought would be an epic movie and nearly every fan website was in a dither. It was a kinder world.

However, the story of this movie might have made a good movie of its own. The movie was completed back in 2007 but was shelved by studio head Harvey Weinstein who felt the cancer subplot was too grim for the comedy he wanted; he also felt it appealed to a niche audience and not a general one. Both are legitimate points.

Director Newman fought the changes and Weinstein eventually assigned director Steven Brill to reshoot some scenes and re-edit it. Fans went ballistic, launching a campaign to stop the changes, opening MySpace pages (“Stop Darth Weinstein”) and threatening to boycott Superhero Movie en masse. I’m not so sure that was a threat so much as a relief.

Eventually Weinstein relented and allowed Newman to re-cut the movie a third time…only he gave him only 36 hours to do the work. The movie bounced from release date to release date over the course of three years until it finally got an extremely limited release in February 2009 and, as you can see from the box office performance below, died like the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi.

It’s kind of a shame because the movie isn’t too bad. It got a critical shellacking which, frankly, illustrates why critics are out of touch with the audience that comes to the movies. People do get involved with their favorite franchises. Laugh and make fun if you want to, but it fulfills something in people, be it Trekkers, Star Wars fan or Twilighters. Those who judge the lifestyles of these people are the ones who really need to get a life.

For the most part, the performances here are okay although there’s nothing here that’s going to supercharge any careers. Baruchel is sweet as Windows and Marquette has some nice scenes as Linus. Mostly, the star power is in the cameos and there are plenty of those, from Star Wars vets Fisher and Williams to Shatner and Rogen (who is amusing as an overbearing Trek fan).

There are a lot of asides that will have knowing fans nodding in satisfaction; I can see how audiences not super-familiar with the Star Wars saga might feel left out a little. However, the movie really isn’t for them anyway. The DVD extras on several occasions call this a love letter to Star Wars but I don’t think it actually ends up that way. It’s more a love letter to the fans, and not just of Star Wars but of all things that excite the imagination and promote obsession. It’s sweet-natured and while not everything works, I am positive that the love is sincere. I’d much rather see a movie like this one than a thousand big budget big star comedies whose sole reason for being is to fatten the bank accounts of those involved. Sincerity trumps budget every time.

WHY RENT THIS: A very sweet homage to fandom, particularly that of Star Wars. Some of the cameos are actually well thought-out.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit gratuitous in places and the humor – well heck the whole dang movie – is going to appeal to a very limited audience; some of the references will go right over the heads of ordinary folk.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of crude humor, much of it sexual (as you might expect from a bunch of guys who don’t get laid much). There’s also some drug use in the movie, as well as a heaping helping of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The guards at Skywalker Ranch wear uniforms from THX-1138, one of Lucas’ early films (and one he references regularly in subsequent films). The head guard is played in a cameo appearance by Ray Park, who played Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is some webisodes that were available before the movie’s release, as well as a character study but really, most of the extras are relatively mundane as these things go.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $960,828 on an unreported production budget; the film was undoubtedly a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Answer Man