With Star Wars offshoots now reliably appearing every time George Lucas sneezes out an idea, it's hard to remember a time when new chapters in his saga created a mystique, much less anticipation. But, as Fanboys reminds viewers (and then reminds them some more), the summer of 1998 was a different time, a time when the desire to see The Phantom Menace built as fast as the pace of information leaked over dial-up Internet connections would allow. For four friends, that isn't fast enough. After reconnecting with three die-hard Star Wars geeks after swearing off fandom in favor of a life working at his dad's used-car lot, Sam Huntington discovers that his estranged best friend (Chris Marquette) has only months to live. In a Star Wars-themed van fueled by Rush cassettes, the foursome sets off to sneak into Lucas' Skywalker Ranch to get a first look at The Phantom Menace, a year before its release.
It would be a race against time, except that Marquette has the sort of cancer that only makes him ill when it's convenient to the plot. Mostly, it's a race to see whether the film's clever premise and underlying sweetness can outpace the black hole of dumb gags, a grating performance by Balls Of Fury's Dan Fogler, and Kyle Newman's point-shoot-and-move-on approach to directing comedy. Promising—if not incredibly inspired—ideas like a violent rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek fans simply flail their way to obvious conclusions, and the leads remain so indistinct, it's hard to care whether one of them dies. No doubt the other, equally dull pal will carry on the legacy of the departed.
Long-shelved, then retooled to cut the cancer references, then restored to its original form for its years-late release, Fanboys has a lot of talent in its margins, including Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Seth Rogen, and other usual suspects. But it's hard to imagine any sort of alchemy transforming the script's parade of Star Wars references and tired nostalgic '90s signifiers (Altoids, "Tubthumping," gay-panic gags, Kevin Smith) into gold, or—this many years after Jar Jar Binks—make their passion seem anything but sadly misplaced.