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Jason Schwartzman practices good follicle hygiene.

© 2002, Screen gems
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The title "Slackers" (IMDb listing) is an odd choice for this comedy, as the characters seem to do nothing but work hard, whether it be at cheating, love or revenge. A juvenile, but occasionally hilarious frat-boy picture, the title is only the commencement to the film's many problems.

Dave (Devon Sawa, "Final Destination"), Sam (Jason Segel, "Undeclared") and Jeff (Michael C. Maronna) are three college buddies who work overtime to cheat and scam their way through school. When Dave meets and tries to pick up Angela (James King, "Pearl Harbor") while committing a little mid-term exam fraud, he unknowingly raises the ire of Angela's stalker, a petty, misunderstood simpleton named Ethan (Jason Schwartzman, "Rushmore"). Ethan is relentless in his pursuit of Angela, and when he feels threatened by Dave's persistence, he tries to blackmail the trio with proof of their deceitful ways. Now Dave, Sam and Jeff must try to convince Angela that Ethan is the perfect man for her, even though Dave's feelings for the bewildered girl are growing stronger by the minute.

You've seen films like "Slackers" before. It's the type of gross-out, teenager cat-nip comedy that won't turn its back on anything that could potentially get a laugh, and for the most part, it's difficult to watch. While some of this moldy material could be attributed to the film's constantly delayed status (it was filmed and ready for release in early 2000), it would be more accurate to blame the lazy screenwriting, which stops anything of merit from taking place so it can make time for a flatulence gag or masturbation joke. Director Dewey Nicks has some original ideas for his picture, including forgoing the usual "soundtrack free for all" featuring modern bands singing unremarkable songs, in favor of using orchestral versions of popular material (The Who's "Baba O' Reily"). And Nicks peppers his cast with some fun cameos including Gina Gershon, Cameron Diaz, and, most shockingly, 1950s sex bomb Mamie Van Doren, who in a deeply courageous move—considering the picture's core demographic of teenagers—provides the film's only nudity.

Nicks plants subversive little ideas and visual gags all over the film as if he understands what the studios want, but he's searching for something better in the material. I appreciate that, though in the end all the nice ideas are second guessed by the typical round of homophobia, beer and vibrator jokes. I guess you can't win all the arguments with the money men.

What "Slackers" has in its favor that no other comedy of this genre could use is Jason Schwartzman. "Slackers" represents Schwartzman's first official follow-up to the role that has made him a legend, that of Max Fisher in "Rushmore." Now long gone is the exquisite "Rushmore" writing and beautiful directing, but what remains here in "Slackers" is Schwartzman's charm, and his ability to make a fool of himself for the benefit of the picture. Whether this throwing-himself-in-front-of-a-runaway-train acting approach makes you smile remains to be seen, but I couldn't help but burst out with chuckles at Schwartzman's undeniable enthusiasm and timing. Ethan is an obnoxious character, and a borderline psychotic, but Schwartzman gives a breezy, likable performance that keeps all the sympathy toward him for the run of the show. The actor has a gift for making mediocre material like this tolerable. That alone should speak miles about his work in the film.

Obviously, I couldn't say that "Slackers" warrants a viewing, but for those willing to give it a try, I believe there are some tiny suggestions of hilarity to be found under all the clichéd nonsense.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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