Review: Slacker 2011

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Slacker 2011

To Austin indie film fans, remaking the iconic Slacker may be the Austin equivalent of remaking Citizen Kane.

Producing a new version of what is arguably the most important and cult-worshiped film in Austin cinematic history is a herculean and potentially thankless task. The danger, of course, is that the end result might be at best a ho-hum imitation of the original film or at worst a widely scorned mess of a movie that pleases no one and embarrasses everyone attached to the project. ("What Were They Thinking?" the Austin Chronicle cover would read.) Like Citizen Kane, Slacker may be best left alone.

I am happy to report, then, that Slacker 2011 is neither a ho-hum imitation of Slacker nor a mess of a movie. It is an entertaining and generally well executed update of and tribute to Richard Linklater's classic. If you like Slacker, you'll probably like Slacker 2011.

Of course, given Austin's deep pool of filmmaking talent, Slacker 2011 may have been destined for success. A co-production of the Austin Film Society and the Alamo Drafthouse, Slacker 2011 was in the capable hands of no less than 24 teams of local directors and film crews, one for each scene in the original movie. The result is essentially two dozen seamlessly connected short films in diverse styles, each an interesting new take on the original scene.

These takes vary from nearly verbatim recreations to hilariously twisted parodies to complete reimaginings of Slacker's scenes. For example, in the opening "Bus & Taxi"scene, director Bob Ray plays Linklater's Slacker role, trading a Roy's Taxi for a pedicab and Linklater's T-shirt for a horrid powder blue suit, but rambling on about his dreams of alternate realities much the way Linklater did. The two versions of the scene feel very much alike.

But the subsequent "Phone Call & Police" scene, directed by Spencer Parsons, bears only a moderate resemblance to its Slacker counterpart. In Slacker, a young man runs over his mother with a battered 1960s station wagon, calls the police from his room in Linklater's famous Fingerhut house, and watches a home movie of himself and his mom while waiting for the cops to arrive. The Slacker 2011 incarnation has a group of teenage budding filmmakers running over their father with an oh-so-modern Prius, capturing the grisly action in an iPhone video, and hastily retreating to a café on the top floor of the former Fingerhut house (now a commercial building). As in the original, the cops do arrest the juvenile auteurs, but only after a very funny discussion of proper filmmaking techniques.

And so it goes throughout Slacker 2011, as more than a score of other filmmakers present their often intriguing, sometimes very odd, but never dull interpretations of Slacker's many unforgettable scenes. Characters' genders are switched, nationalities changed and ages playfully miscast. In Rusty Kelley's "Coffee Shop" scene, children discuss Dostoyevsky while playing the original film's adult roles. In Mike Dolan's "Burglary," a young Kirk Smith plays the Old Anarchist, a role sixtysomething Louis Mackey made famous in Slacker. In the original "Boyfriends" scene, three young men throw a tent and typewriter into a creek to deal with a cheating girlfriend; in David and Nathan Zellner's oddball remake, a Japanese rock band (Peelander-Z) does the same with an old computer, speaking much of the original dialogue in Japanese.

Adding to the fun are plenty of in-jokes about filmmaking and Austin culture, cameos by famous Austinites (I won't spoil the fun by naming them), and reappearances of several original cast members. (Slacker fans will be elated to know that the inimitable Lori Capp reprises her role as Traumatized Yacht Owner, who implores everyone to quit traumatizing women with sexual intercourse.)

The end result is a quirky, interesting and entirely watchable movie. Is it as good as Slacker? No -- it's not as polished or Austin-weirdly captivating as Linklater's film. One factor that makes Slacker work so well is its tightly written and endlessly clever dialogue. But much of the scripting in Slacker 2011 isn't as sharp, and some of the more absurd scenarios don't work as intended. The pacing also drags at times, although never for very long.

On the other hand, many scenes are every bit as good as their original counterparts, and great credit is due to the many filmmakers who twisted Slacker in clever ways while preserving its vibe and humor. One of my favorite scenes is John Bryant's "JFK Conspiracy," starring Chris Trew as a 9/11 conspiracy nut as annoyingly hilarious as John Slate's Kennedy assassination buff in Slacker.

Slacker 2011 brings to mind three questions. First, does it work as a stand-alone film for viewers not familiar with Slacker? It's essentially an in-joke for Slacker groupies, so probably not. But it doesn't need to, because making sense to everyone isn't the point of Slacker 2011. It's for us cool kids who get it.

Second, does Slacker 2011 live up to its audience's very high hopes? For the most part, I'd say yes. It's endless fun and a fitting -- if imperfect -- tribute to Slacker, an affectionate homage and an often razor-sharp parody. I'd call Slacker 2011 essential viewing for Slacker fans.

Finally, will Slacker 2011 reach the iconic status of its predecessor? Not likely, but that's not a criticism. What film can? Austin is full of Slacker fans like me whose 20-year love affair with our town's greatest movie continues unabated, and I doubt any film will ever compete with Slacker for our affections. (I saw Slacker in Dallas a month before moving to Austin in 1991. After seeing the film, I simply couldn't wait to move here and wanted to leave Dallas that night. As such, I remain hopelessly smitten with Slacker and am not looking for a similar relationship with any other Austin film. But thanks, Austin filmmakers -- I'm flattered by the offers, anyway.)

Slacker 2011 doesn't do for contemporary Austin what Slacker did for the Austin of 1991; it's not a memorably perfect portrait of a time and place. But that isn't necessarily a criticism, either. The remake is a noble experiment that yielded many great results. If there can be only one Slacker, Slacker 2011 is a great way to honor the film that made many of us fall in love with Austin and played a pivotal role in creating the Austin film industry.

FYI, Slacker 2011 will play

FYI, Slacker 2011 will play at the Alamo Drafthouse on Sundays in September. Refer to the Alamo Drafthouse website for scheduling details.

one sentence evaluation of S2

Slacker 2011 is the ultimate, and very enjoyable, DVD extra for the Blu Ray of Slacker.

I'm so excited about this

I'm so excited about this movie, but no one can tell me, HOW DO I GET TICKETS?!

Oops

It says I can get them on the drafthouse website. Hope I can swing by this Sunday!