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Overall Rating
2.14

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 4.55%
Just Average: 4.55%
Pretty Crappy54.55%
Sucks: 27.27%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings


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Wackness, The
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by Erik Childress

"A Film About Dope & Dopes That Should Be Whacked"
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: One thought kept racing through my head while watching Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness and it was a roundabout self-debate on who exactly would identify or root for the film’s protagonist. As a pot-dealing, sex-deficient teen in the early ‘90s, the screenplay does the kid no favors in developing him beyond those hyphenated adjectives. I understand that the wacky weed is all the rage these days and it’s become more taboo to not include it as a character in comedies than as some adversarial poke at the squares, but there are really only three ways for pot humor to manifest. (1) The regular laughing, munching kind (2) The adverse effects that spell trouble or (3) Have the squares stop trying to beat them and just join them. Of course, The Wackness isn’t entirely about marijuana but it’s hard to remember anything else that’s distinctive about it.

Set in 1994 purely for metaphor purposes, The Wackness’ rooting interest is supposed to be Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), a recently graduated teen who despite being the herbal go-to guy doesn’t have much in the way of friends. In fact, he spends most of his time in therapy with Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), who possesses more problems than his clientele and trades his time with Luke for the product he peddles. Luke doesn’t have much to talk about at the sessions. His parents may not be up for any awards, but aside from some unmentionable financial issues that daddy is facing, Luke’s homelife is, at worst, your average everyday bore. That leaves him enough time to think about sex, specifically in regards to the doc’s stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby).

Thanks to some casual, random encounters, Luke gets his wish and begins to split his time between Stephanie and her father. What interest she has in Luke other than her fascination with his daily selling methods is anybody’s guess but his masturbatory dalliances slowly become a reality. His sexual chirpa, the doc, also begins to live out his forgotten fantasies through Luke, taking the lad for a night on the town to escape his loveless marriage to his wife, Kristin (Famke Janssen) to the point where they are being bailed out for trying to leave their mark on a neighborhood expressing no room for their shenanigans.

The heavy-handed metaphor of which I speak of is at the core of Levine’s script. Instead of letting us come to our own conclusions, it’s hammered out barely an hour into the proceedings and does the characters no favors as they are now forced to live up to its self-important wankering. In a nutshell, it’s 1994 timeline is the backdrop of one Mayor Giuliani and the vacuuming he committed to the streets of New York. Down with all that pesky crime and the vices they circumvent, Luke and Dr. Squires are somehow representative of a hipper landscape or drugs and chicks that’s dying out thanks to those in power. Kingsley’s doctor says as much during their evening out while Levine reminds us where we’re at with references to O.J., some hot new artist known as Biggie and not one, but TWO references to Forrest Gump. It’s superfluous overkill that is less about endearing us to these character’s simplistic plights and all about how in touch the filmmakers are with an almanac.

Performance-wise, the work turned in by Josh Peck is just hard to attach any sort of emotional or psychological resonance to. Caught more often than not with the kind of squinty, one-eyed, half-smirking profile, it’s easier to want to just punch the look off his face than feel any base sympathy for what his life is lacking. Most kids lived through a flaccid existence in high school, but I doubt many had 26 grand in their pockets through horticultural enterprises. The women in the piece are noted for either their extreme optimism or disdain for life. Janssen is more lifeless than she was at the end of X-Men 2. Mary-Kate Olsen (in a pointless bit of stunt casting) hops around as some Central Park hippie who is notable only for her brief make-out scene with the elder Kingsley. And Thirlby, so good in Juno and David Gordon Green’s upcoming Snow Angels, gets the unfortunate task of delivering maybe the most groan-worthy line of titular explanation in the history of film when telling Luke that she looks at “the dopeness” of life while he sees nothing but “the wackness.” (When Penn Jillette and his movie posse, known for giving ovations the moment a movie character speaks the film's title, hear this particular line, it may render them speechless and silent.)

Mad skills are hardly represented in the dialogue department, as those crazy 1994 kids might “mad” say. Kingsley is the only one able to occasionally overcome it as the character that should have been the focus, but is instead reduced to a comic second bananahead that makes a sexual or rap music reference on cue to prove he’s that hip old guy relief that fulfills at least one of the three requirements of a pot-laden script. Twice during debating The Wackness with members of the Sundance crowd who adored the film I was sold the film as some sort of “generational thing” that implied I had somehow missed out on getting the experience as the next Graduate, Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Garden State. Once getting past how old these people must have thought I was, to wit I was able to reply “Class of ’93, ya dope.” Isn’t that wack? Maybe they’ll be totally buggin’ that I didn’t dig on the film, but it doesn’t take a generation of moviegoing to recognize the weakness of The Wackness.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16896&reviewer=198
originally posted: 01/29/08 17:28:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival For more in the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2008 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/31/11 Melvin Aramis Martinez, Spacejerker.com My favorite film. 5 stars
8/31/08 Samantha Pruitt very good story, great acting, love the music! 4 stars
7/23/08 James I left the theater satisfied. 3 stars
1/25/08 bls the best of sundance - great movie 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  03-Jul-2008 (R)
  DVD: 06-Jan-2009

UK
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Australia
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  DVD: 06-Jan-2009




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