There needs to be a new piece of movie legislation, effective immediately: If you have a scene in which the comic material culminates in a loud fart, you are not allowed to have any scenes of sappy romance when the boy and girl finally kiss.
It is important for comedies, especially gross-out comedies, to commit to their goals. A movie like “There”s Something About Mary” works because of its ability to follow one comedic tone and make its so-called “drama” run parallel to the comedy. “Slackers,” on the other hand, can”t make up its mind whether it is a purely disgusting romp through bodily function humor or a safe, by-the-numbers coming of age comedy like “Can”t Hardly Wait.”
“Slackers” follows the scamming lifestyle of three college kids: Dave (Devon Sawa, “Final Destination”), Jeff (played by Michael Maronna, who is best known from the Ameritrade commercials alarm bells should be ringing) and Sam (Jason Segel, “Dead Man on Campus”), who have cheated their way through high school and college, using elaborate cons to boost their grades and pass their tests. (They actually do more work arranging to cheat their way into an inconspicuous B-plus or an A-minus than it would take to study and get that grade, but don”t let that bother you).
Dave is on the brink of pulling off another mid-term exam scam when “Cool” Ethan (Jason Schwartzman, “Rushmore”), whose seat Dave has stolen, discovers the evidence of Dave”s crime and makes him a proposition, Sam and Jeff: Unless they help Ethan win the adoration of Angela (James King, “Pearl Harbor”), he will turn them in to the dean and get them kicked out of college.
It sounds easy enough, as their skills in espionage and manipulation are unmatched, but there”s one minor snag: Dave and Angela begin to fall for each other, putting the agreement in jeopardy.
This could be the plot of the sequel to the “N Sync stinker “On the Line” if it wasn”t for a couple key things: There is a constant presence of dick, fart and masturbation jokes that would make Beavis and Butthead blush, and then there”s the fact that Ethan is a borderline psychotic stalker with a shrine to his girlfriend-to-be, including a doll made of her hair.
Schwartzman”s unique comic timing and physical comedy give the viewer moments of relief from the otherwise painful film. He plays Ethan as a cross between Max Fischer of “Rushmore” and David from “Fear,” with just a hint of Buffalo Bill of “Silence of the Lambs” to spice things up. He tries to work his way into Angela”s life through lies and surveillance, and when he discovers that Dave has double-crossed him and is pursuing Angela for himself, he loses control and tries to get even with the three cheaters. His outrageous antics and over-the-top reactions are often hilarious, including when he blows up at a bum in a soup kitchen and jumps across the buffet line to attack him.
However, his talent is often wasted on basic and less than clever jokes. Schwartzman, who has potential to establish himself as a character actor, is in danger of being typecast as the wacky, slightly imbalanced, angst-filled comic relief.
“Slackers” is full of stomach-turning gross-out gags, from Ethan giving a sponge bath to a bare-chested 70-year-old prostitute to surprisingly revealing scene of Jeff playing with a sock puppet on his unmentionables. Most of these nuggets of comedy don”t work They just make you yearn for the next scene with Ethan flailing around and yelling.
The three cheaters are basically filler, with all of them trying their best (and failing) to reach comic proficiency. Segel is better at comedy when he is doing deadpan, and Maronna appears to be riding the Seth Green train of comedy, with little success. King is another victim of the model turned actress pandemic that has swept the movie industry a pretty face but no redeeming acting ability, neither comic nor dramatic.
Laura Prepon (“That “70s Show”), playing Angela”s slightly slutty roommate, is underused, and only calls further attention to the mediocrity of King.
The other main problem with the movie is the seemingly last minute attempt to add a real romance between Dave and Angela, which could have worked if it had been done in the same “pull my finger” juvenile manner that the rest of the movie embraces.