Review: 'The Wackness'

Set in the hip-hop culture of 1990s New York, this tale of a cross-generational friendship between two self-indulgent men quickly wears thin.

The archetypal Sundance favorite – it won an audience award at this year's festival – writer-director Jonathan Levin's "The Wackness" is a self-indulgent movie about self-indulgence. Set in 1994 New York at a time when Mayor Rudolph Guiliani was high into his crusade to clean up the city, it's about a matchup of two unlikely soulmates.

Luke (Josh Peck) is a woebegone teenager who deals marijuana, can't get along with his disapproving parents (imagine!), and lacks female companionship despite his supercool slackerness. (Question: Since when do hip high school girls reject the bad-boy outsider?)

Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), Luke's therapist, is unhappily married. His wife is played by Famke Janssen. I will make no further comment.

The bond between Luke and Squires is twofold: First, Luke is enamored of the doc's stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby from "Juno") who, lo and behold, anoints him with a kiss and more. More important, Luke trades weed for therapy sessions, which only points up the fact that Squires is in as much need of therapy as Luke. Together they fan out across the city in search of girls.

This oddball coupling is supposed to be cute, but their nighttime trawling for babes rapidly wears out its welcome for us. Along the way, Luke crosses paths with several of his cronies, including a dreadlocked waif (a surprisingly good Mary- Kate Olsen) and his supplier (Method Man). As a portrait of the mid-1990s urban hip-hop culture, "The Wackness" is decidedly underpowered, despite the lively soundtrack. We're left with one of those cross-generational union-of-two-souls dramas that probably looked good on paper. On screen, it's a maundering allegory.

Kingsley is amusing to watch, however, even though he overdoses on strangeness. He's like a superannuated hippie crossed with the swami he just played in "The Love Guru." Kingsley seems to be in every movie these days. Selectivity is obviously not his Number 1 priority. Grade: C (Rated R for pervasive drug use, language, and some sexuality.) [Editor's note: The original version misstated the director's first name.]

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