2002, R, 86 min. Directed by Dewey Nicks. Starring Mamie Van Doren, Joe Flaherty, Laura Prepon, Michael C. Maronna, Jason Segel, James King, Jason Schwartzman, Devon Sawa.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Feb. 1, 2002

Here's an image I'll never get out of my head: Michael C. Maronna (“Stuart” from those Ameritrade commercials) singing a duet of “She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain (When She Comes)” with a lip-synching sock puppet -- worn over his penis -- framed by ginger-colored pubes shown at length in a close-up. Like much of Slackers, a singularly distasteful campus romp, the scene is pointless and painfully unfunny, another example of how outré bad taste stands in for comedy in the youth-oriented formula farce. Memo to director Nicks and screenwriter David H. Steinberg, each of whom debuts here: It isn't automatically funny when someone farts, steps in dog shit, or falls down repeatedly, nor is it particularly outrageous -- even with the unicycle. These lowbrow yuks ensue after Dave (Sawa), a generic senior at Holden University, makes a serious slip-up during an elaborate cheating caper in a physics class, conducted with wastoid partners-in-crime Jeff (Maronna) and Sam (Segel). He slips his name and number to Angela (model-actress King), a gorgeous blond test-taker who happens to be the inamorata of classmate Ethan (Schwartzman), a nerdy busboy so freakish that he combs Angela's chair with a lint roller and adds the findings to a “hair doll” made of stray strands. Furiously jealous and aware of Dave's scheme, Ethan puts the hurt on the three conspirators, blackmailing them into helping him win Angela's heart. There are fitful moments of humor -- the ever-reliable Flaherty, in a role much smaller than his billing suggests, makes deadpan reference to “bustin' caps in Whitey” -- but the comedy is largely limited to mean-spirited gags that undersell the abilities of the young ensemble. Statuesque Jersey girl Prepon (of That '70s Show) has a salty, sassy camera presence, but she's wasted in an embarrassing third-banana role as Angela's oversexed, vibrator-happy roommate. Segel (of the late, lamented Freaks and Geeks) strikes a goofy, likable note but doesn't fare much better; he and Maronna all but disappear after the sock puppet incident, making room for Ethan's stalking rampages. Schwartzman is fully invested in the part, to his credit, but director Nicks has no control over his antics; unlike his romantically fixated oddball character in Wes Anderson's superior Rushmore, Ethan is totally unlikable, unsympathetic, and psychotic. It's just not funny to see him strong-arm his way into Angela's dorm room with a troll pencil, a poster of a chimpanzee, and a Casiotone serenade, only to end up masturbating on her couch -- it's creepy and will resonate strangely with anyone who's ever been the target of unwanted attention. Obsession is the stuff of black comedy, and the filmmakers aren't up to the challenge. But they do manage, somehow, to dig up septuagenarian sex kitten Van Doren and cast her as a topless whore; the less said about this, the better.

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More by Marrit Ingman
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The film’s light hand, appealing style, and simple exposition make it an eminently watchable inquiry into the politics of food, public health, and the reasons why corn has become an ingredient in virtually everything we eat.

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Slackers, Dewey Nicks, Mamie Van Doren, Joe Flaherty, Laura Prepon, Michael C. Maronna, Jason Segel, James King, Jason Schwartzman, Devon Sawa

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