November 10, 2008 -- “The Wackness” is one of those dreaded coming of age stories which seem to open every weekend at a theater near you. This one is better than most due to some fine comic and dramatic performances by a talented cast. The story is filled with drugs and several people making sweaty, heavy breathing sex scenes in the hot muggy New York summer of 1994. These are wacky people whose lives are marked by loud, sweaty desperation.
Luke Shapiro (played by Josh Peck of “Drillbit Taylor”) is an 18-year-old kid who has just graduated from high school and is planning to go to college, financed by his summer job of selling vast amounts of marijuana on the streets of New York out of an ice cream cart. There is no way the cops wouldn't catch on to this racket. Peck's parents are having financial difficulties (this could have been set in 2008 and it would have hit home harder). Luke tries to sell more marijuana so his family won't be evicted from their home. Peck has lots of customers, but no friends. The closest thing he has to a friend is his analyst, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley of “Transsiberian”) who gives him counseling in return for marijuana. Dr. Squires recommends that Luke get laid. That will make him feel better. When Luke hooks up with Dr. Squires pretty stepdaughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby of “Juno”), Dr. Squires suddenly changes his mind about the getting laid bit.
Dr. Squires' life is falling apart like an old car. His marriage is crumbling. He's hooked on prescription drugs, he's drinking too much, he's using illegal drugs, he's suicidal. His only friend seems to be Luke. Eventually, the two get together for some strange experiences on Fire Island and on the streets of New York. Luke falls in love with Staphanie, and has sex with her, but she doesn't fall in love with him. For her, he is just a summer fling. Dr. Squires has a heavy breathing session with Union (Mary-Kate Olsen of “New York Minute”) in a phone booth in a bar. Dr. Squires reports he got to second base with Union, but it looks, and sounds, more like a home run. Things get a lot worse for everyone before they get better.
The acting is very good by the main characters, including Famke Janssen of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” who plays Kristin Squires, Dr. Squires' distracted and bored wife. This is an outlier performance in the long, distinguished career of Sir Ben Kingsley. It shows the serious actor also has a comic side. His encounter with Luke's Rastafarian drug supplier, Percy (Method Man of “Cop Land”) is very funny. Josh Peck is the movie's main character and he hits all the right notes in his performance. Very impressive. The color palate of the film is kind of washed out. It is supposed to have some sort of nostalgic effect, I guess. And yes, the World Trade Center is inserted into some of the shots. There is lots of rap period music on the soundtrack. This film rates a B.
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