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"The Wackness"

Directed by Jonathan Levine.
Written by Jonathan Levine.
Starring Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby and Ben Kingsley.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  7/23/08



I wanted "The Wackness" to be better, possibly because my man Brett "$20 on Black" Stone told me that it was bad-ass, possibly because I thought it was a period piece from the heart of the good hip-hop era.  Where does it stumble?  Oh, a lot of places...but, that doesn't mean it was ALL bad.

Josh Peck plays our 18-year-old hero/loser, Luke; it's 1994 in New York City, and amidst Kurt Cobain's suicide, B.I.G.'s release of the now-classic "Ready to Die" album, and Nintendo, Luke is just trying to graduate high school to enjoy his last summer living at home.  To make money, he's deals pot; to make friends, he hangs out with his shrink, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley); to make love to "the ladies", he makes moves on a too-cool-for-school teen--and stepdaughter of Dr. Squires--named Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby, the best friend character from "Juno").  Kurt weaves his way through his three months mainly behind the power of hip-hop, so the soundtrack of tracks from Nas, Tribe, Biggie, etc. all works wonders if you are a fan.

Unfortunately, the movie isn't just the soundtrack, or the fun references to rolled jeans, Game Boys, "Forrest Gump" and other kitschy product placements throughout the film.  As good as Kingsley is--and, no one does dirty bastard old guy better--he has to work with a cast that is, to say the least, less than stellar, led off by Peck, who apparently has worked on TV for some time now (Nickelodeon) but looks overmatched here as the on-again/off-again "street" lead.  Some of this has to be the direction, because it was baffling to watch our man Luke go from conversation with teens to other conversations with teens, sometimes straight hip-hop, sometimes...not.  One just guesses, without having read writer/director Jonathan Levine's bio, that this is a biography of our director, and as such, maybe Levine thought Peck best embodies him...unfortunately, we get a lot of Peck, and that's not a good thing.

Thirlby is not bad, but Famke Janssen, as the doctor's estranged wife, is bad; Method Man playing a Jamaican drug dealer is also a bad idea.  (Apparently, they just couldn't have Meth play a black American drug dealer.)  Mary-Kate Olsen is not bad as an actress, but again, her scenes are very poor, and it feels like she is acting as she spends a drunken night with Luke and the doctor at a neighborhood bar.  Other mistakes pop up--turning the film into a rite-of-passage sex film mid-movie didn't work for me, long stretches between laughs also hurts the film, and having the parents be a disaster might describe the director's real life, but in a movie, you will say to yourself "here we go again!" when we see that the parents are always fighting, money is tight, blah blah blah.

The movie teases with above-average-ocity throughout, though, and that keeps you watching.  Plus, even as some of the scenes are bad, you get to rock out to a KRS-One song, so you let it slide.  "The Wackness" is average, but it isn't a total disappointment.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09