Three college buddies have worked out a system where they make good grades with almost no studying. When the resident geek discovers their scam, he blackmails them into helping him win the heart of the smartest, prettiest girl on campus.
Slackers stars Devon Sawa as Dave, a lazy college bum who, along with his two cronies Sam (Jason Segel) and Jeff (Michael Maronna), cheats his way through school in a variety of schemes that involve elaborate ways of getting advance peeks at test questions and then paying the smart, nerdy kids to provide the correct answers. (Methinks it would be far easier for them to just do the work themselves.) While stealing the midterm test from a physics class, Dave meets a pretty girl, Angela (James King), and asks her out. It turns out to be a big mistake, because Angela has previously attracted the attentions of Cool Ethan (Jason Schwartzman), a psychotic geek who is stalking poor Angela without her knowledge. Happening upon a document that will expose Dave's misdeeds, Ethan blackmails Dave and his gang--in return for not incriminating them, they must work their magic and get Ethan the necessary information to win the heart of unsuspecting Angela.
Ethan is clearly the film's antagonist and Schwartzman's (who was brilliant in Rushmore) fearlessly repellent performance is as insanely funny as it is completely disturbing. (It's also the one true thing that sets Slackers apart from complete anonymity.) There's no sweet side to this guy that Angela might fall for if she only got to know him. Schwartzman's Ethan is abrasive, aggressive, unrelenting, hyperactive, socially inept and full of ill-advised impulses he never filters. Meanwhile, Sawa and King come off as a bland, cut-and-paste Ken and Barbie, who never set the screen on fire. Aside from the sock puppet gag bit, Maronna and Segel are wasted as Sawa's slavishly devoted friends. Laura Prepon (TV's That '70s Show) tantalizes us as King's lascivious roommate, but we just don't get to see enough of her fine performance.
There's little wittiness found in Dewey Nicks' direction or in the writing, though there are a handful of moments that rise above the film's generally uninspired technique. Nicks effectively rips off Spike Lee's floating camera movement in a scene where Dave walks through an operatic graduation celebration, and the alternate reality sequences (Cool Ethan's kissing threesome; Jeff's sock puppet; the cheaters imagining themselves as superheroes, rap stars and Peter Pan) are genuinely funny and almost innovative. Nicks almost inserts enough of this to make Slackers more than just your routine gross-out romp rife with weird sex, masturbation and toilet humor--but just almost. Ultimately, in Nicks' hands the movie never rises above its pedestrian plot and dialogue.
Better than most formulaic college movies, there's just enough creativity and quirkiness--and Schwartzman--to make this trifle worth watching. Just don't expect genius.