July 25, 2008
‘Wackness’ is Overly Predictable, Cliched
By Jeff Vice Deseret News
THE WACKNESS -- ** -- Josh Peck, Ben Kingsley, Olivia Thirlby; rated R (drugs, sex, profanity, vulgarity, brief nudity, slurs)
If you listened to the huge Sundance Film Festival publicity blitz and the subsequent prerelease hype, you'd be led to believe that "The Wackness" was fresher than the majority of cinematic coming-of-age tales.
But if you see it based on that idea, you might be wondering what all those people were smoking. There's nothing really new here, aside from a couple of roughly convincing performances by the younger, less recognizable cast members.
Other than that, though, this comedy-drama is an overly familiar, predictable and cliched period piece (in this case, it's the mid- '90s that are being looked at with surprising affection).
By the way, the film's title refers to a slang term for supposed lameness. And to this point, it's describing the experiences of Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), a teen who's stuck in blazing-hot Brooklyn during summer break.
However, he's been keeping busy by selling pot, to such customers as Jeff Squires (Ben Kingsley), a psychiatrist who's trading his services for drugs. Luke has also been selling to Jeff's teenage stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), a classmate with whom he's obsessed.
The clueless therapist encourages Luke to pursue this relationship. And he also tries to befriend his much-younger patient/ drug supplier by going out on a series of late-night escapades with him.
This particular bit isn't nearly as amusing as screenwriter/ director Jonathan Levine clearly thinks it is. And for some reason, Brit Kingsley tries to mask his natural accent with a phoney Brooklyn one and covers his head with an even less-convincing wig. (He does seem to be the one person who realizes there's something wrong with this material, though.)
But the sleepy-eyed Peck, from TV's "Drake & Josh," is likable. And Levine gets another solid performance from up-and-coming actress Thirlby (she did similar things in support in both "Juno" and "Snow Angels").
"The Wackness" is rated R for strong drug content and references (marijuana use and prescription medicine abuse), simulated sex and other sexual contact, strong sexual language (profanity, crude slang terms and other suggestive talk), nude images and brief male nudity, and derogatory language. Running time: 95 minutes.
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