Indie flicks: 'Fanboys' and 'Two Lovers'

Fanboys (PG-13) (90 min.) — Kyle Newman's ode to pop culture geekdom is finally being released — or permitted to escape — by the Weinstein Co. after two years of reshoots, re-editing and really bad publicity. The good news is that Fanboys isn't a bad movie. The worse news is that we may never know how good it could've been.

The plot is an aspiring Jedi Knight's dream: Four buddies in 1998 with drastic Star Wars fixations drive cross country to break into George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. Their mission is to steal a film print of Episode I: The Phantom Menace for private viewing before it is revealed to the world. For good measure, they're joined by a hottie (Kristen Bell) who also knows what a Nerf Herder is.

That inspires a slew of hit-and-miss inside jokes, many so inside that they're practically telepathic. The friends argue over Luke and Leia kissing while unaware that they're related, employ Jedi mind tricks to no avail, and share a distinct hatred for Star Trek fanboys. The sight of Trekkers and our heroes' slap-fighting with a "Khan!" coda says a lot about the way Newman embraces his inner nerd.

Newman pads his Star Wars cache with cameos to make fanboys delightfully nudge each other: Carrie Fisher reprises a Princess Leia line; Ray Park ("Darth Maul") plays a Skywalker ranch security guard. Admitted geeks Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen (as a bucktoothed Trekker and a Jedi pimp) add random laughs. The final act cleverly daydreams what Lucas' film compound would be.

But the suits at Weinstein were right to eject the sentimental reason for this road trip: One friend is dying of cancer, and seeing Episode 1 will be an appropriate send-off. It's back in the movie, shrunk to early and late twists that don't fit into the juvenile high jinks in between. Sorry, Trek lovers: Fanboys will live long and maybe prosper on DVD, hopefully with a director's cut. B-

Two Lovers (R) (110 min.) — Joaquin Phoenix's current meltdown/hoax aside, Two Lovers suggests what the moody actor is capable of doing, if he ever does it again.

Director James Grey's quirky romantic dramedy is interesting in ways beyond trying to spot cracks in Phoenix's psyche, clues to why he would wish to quit acting, especially to become a so-far pitiful rapper. That investigation is muddled by the fact that his character, bipolar Leonard Kraditor, is equally, mumbly off-the wall.

Leonard returns from his latest institutionalization to his parents' ultra-Jewish home in Brighton Beach, where they hope to set him up with a neighbor (Vinessa Shaw). Leonard isn't interested, and too dispirited to protest much. Soon he spies a lovely, shiksa neighbor named Michelle Rausch (Gwyneth Paltrow, coming back from her own acting hiatus), stashed away by her married lover (Elias Koteas).

Easy to guess what transpires, although Phoenix performs unexpectedly along the way. There's a welcome understatement to a role that could be loudly pathetic, a sense of control at odds with the self-humiliating Phoenix we've seen recently. It's a good performance in a mediocre movie. Grey isn't at ease with such harmless material, after a career of tough, inner-city melodramas.

But we leave Two Lovers with one thought in mind: Come back, Joaquin, and it's very possible that all can be forgiven. C

Indie flicks: 'Fanboys' and 'Two Lovers' 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 3:30am]

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