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'Fanboys' To Men: The Road Movie Geeks Out

It's a decade or so ago, on a Halloween far, far away, and four high-school grads costumed as Imperial storm troopers are hatching a plan.

The release of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, George Lucas' fourth Star Wars movie (or first, depending on how you're counting), is just months away, and that's an event these guys — who'd give anything to see the movie even a day early — regard as worthy of an epic quest. And they've been planning this one since they were 6: They aim to drive to California, sneak onto Lucas' Skywalker Ranch compound and steal a print.

Now, beer-fueled enthusiasm of this sort would normally fade by next morning, but these are no ordinary Star Wars fans. One of them has issues with his father (shades of Luke). Another has a beat-up van that's got it where it counts (shades of Han Solo). And they all know more about Ewoks and Tatooine than they do about, say, girls and planet Earth — something they establish beyond any doubt when quizzed on their Jedi-worthiness by Ain't It Cool News blogmeister Harry Knowles.

You'd think the weakest link in Fanboys would be that it's all in-jokes, but they're actually not so "in" that a casual fan won't get them. Director Kyle Newman and his screenwriters started with a Harold and Kumar-style road trip full of raunchy chatter, then made the details equal-opportunity nerdy.

For instance, the Star Warriors encounter turbulence from a whole other universe on the way to Skywalker Ranch. It happens in Vegas, where a crucial file folder gets tossed to them by a familiar-looking figure in the shadows: a Starfleet captain turned Web-travel huckster, who much to the guys' amazement has scored top-secret info that may help them crack the ranch. "I'm William Shatner," he boasts. "I can score anything."

The Star Trek/Star Wars divide is heightened in a pair of battles with Seth Rogen, and there are other pop-cult cameos from Jay and Silent Bob, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and others. When a plot twist seems weird enough, you can generally assume it comes from a Lucas movie, and dyed-in-the-wool fanboys will doubtless pick up on things that flew past me.

As funny as Fanboys often is, it's not particularly graceful — possibly because it had a troubled production history, with the filmmakers resisting studio-imposed changes to their story, including the deletion of a subplot involving cancer.

The film has been delayed for almost two years, and the version that's finally hitting the screen has a committee-made feel to it — though this committee was clearly populated by geeks, fans, and maybe a droid or two.

If the version of Fanboys they came up with is a little sloppy, well, think about it: Would you really want a Superbad-meets-Jabba the Hut geekfest to feel state of the art?

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.

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