(2002) * 1/2 R
97 min. Screen Gems. Director: Dewey Nicks. Cast: Devon Sawa, Jason Schwartzman, Jaime King, Jason Segel, Michael C. Maronna (II).

Mr. Nicks:

I've reviewed your independent study materials and found them sorely lacking. Based on the promise you display, you should be ashamed of the shoddy work you have submitted here.

First, let me commend you on the strengths of your work, titled Slackers. In telling the story of three committed college cheaters blackmailed by a freaky outcast, you employ some creative fantasy sequences. Though none of them fully take off, you show the potential to break out of formula. In collaboration with writer David H. Steinberg, you achieve an occasional measure of "quirk." Unfortunately, you lack the conviction to follow through on these instincts. You've musically bookended your work with one fine opening minute (making effective use of the London Philharmonic's recording of the Who's "Baba O'Riley") and one fantastic closing minute (showcasing Jason Schwartzman in his role as the aforementioned freak), so you have a knack for hooking your audience and ending with a bang. Perhaps your greatest accomplishment here is exploiting the work of others, particularly Schwartzman and Cameron Diaz, whose brief presence is as inexplicable as it is unsavory. Based on this, I suppose I must give you credit for both chutzpah and determination.

However, these positive points pale in comparison to your work's deficiencies. Of primary concern is the streak of misogyny running through Slackers. Though your male characters are unremittingly stupid, that does not excuse your universal treatment of women as either clueless sexual objects or hot-and-bothered "sluts." One particularly disturbing fantasy of a bored housewife who inprobably proclaims she loves to suck on the male organ is immediately followed by a sequence of a hospitalized, 70-year-old, face-painted mamie Van Doren proudly proclaiming herself a "whore" and exposing herself needily to a college male (more chutzpah points). I've neglected to mention the early scene of wrong-turn-at-Alburqurque television star Laura Prepon (That 70s Show) masturbating with a vibrator (again, how did you convince an actress to damage her career in this manner?), followed by scenes establishing her as an anything-goes S&M exhibitionist. Furthermore, after glorifying your goofy cheater heroes, your sharp U-turn to "honesty" is unconvincing, especially when you turn again moments later to reward your heroes for a final dishonesty (regarding credibility, the school's consistent lack of campus security also fails to hold water).

My conclusion is that your final product owes nearly all of its success to the work of Schwartzman, whose manic comic energy will draw inevitable comparisons to his cousin Nicolas Cage; Schwartzman's performances of two songs which he wrote himself outshine the combined efforts of you and Mr. Steinberg. Mr. Scwhwartzman manages to squeeze chuckles from his unpromising dialogue (casually referring to poor soup kitchen patrons as "bums" while trying to impress a girl) and more often from his likely ad-libs.

Perhaps if you fail to find your way to solid ground, Mr. Schwartzman will employ you in some lesser position on one of his own creative efforts. Given the borderline condescension to acts of charity your project displays, you may find your future somewhat humbling if you don't clean up your act. Your grade for this project is a D+.

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