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Cheaters Never Win

Even with Schwartzman, Slackers swindles its audience

Dim, youth-oriented sex comedies such as Slackers often slip into theaters under cover of darkness, far away from the reviewing press. Not that critical appraisal really matters to such films; if it did, Freddie Prinze Jr. would be working along Santa Monica Boulevard rather than on the big screen. The fact that a studio actually wants critics to see its college movie would seem like a good sign, especially because it features Rushmore star Jason Schwartzman in his first major role since that rightfully acclaimed 1999 Wes Anderson comedy.

Alas, Slackers sucks. It's so wretched Schwartzman can't save it, though he tries mightily; a flash of nudity from Pearl Harbor babe and male-named model-turned-actress James King isn't even worth the price of a video rental down the line. There's the occasional noble attempt at deflating some teen-movie stereotypes, but they're undermined by a way-too-predictable climax.

The fundamental problem is one of audience identification, and the leads are all disagreeable. We're introduced to protagonists who pass the time by cheating: Dave (Devon Sawa), the confident pretty face; Sam (Jason Segel), the mastermind; and Jeff (Michael C. Maronna), the weirdo. They've reached their senior year by arranging elaborate scams that eliminate the need for studying and instead require such a degree of deception they don't have any close friends other than each other.

But a woman comes along to screw up the male bonding. While taking an exam on Sam's behalf, Dave breaks protocol and gives his phone number to a looker named Angela (King). His action catches the eye of hyperactive nerd "Cool Ethan" (Schwartzman), who's obsessed with Angela. Ethan confronts the cheaters and threatens to expose them unless they hook him up with the dream girl. Elaborate schemes ensue, and, as traditionally happens in such films, the nerd eventually catches the eye of the object of his desire.

The slackers aren't a real fun bunch. Sam's a whiny recluse, Jeff's a flatulent dead ringer for Spin Doctors frontman Chris Barron and Dave's the epitome of the average college girl's poor taste in men. It's impossible for us to hope he gets together with Angela; anyone can go to a club on a Saturday night and watch similarly banal and beautiful people hook up. The movie may offer a more credible scenario than standard revenge-of-the-nerd fare, but the leads have to be more likable than this if we're to relate or care.

Director Dewey Nicks, a former fashion photographer, desperately wants to make an artistic statement, with images of neckties hanging from trees and endless fantasy sequences, none of which works, despite cameos by Gina Gershon and Cameron Diaz.

 
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