Feb 6, 2002 at 12:00 am

Not to be confused with the 1991 Richard Linklater film, Slacker, about Texan evaders of normalcy, Slackers is the 2002 Dewey Nicks-directed film about three quirky goofballs sliding through their bachelor’s degrees on stolen Blue Books and fabricated facts, until Ethan, a psychotic freak with an unhealthy crush, gums up the works.

Ethan has discovered the threesome’s fraudulent ways and decides to blackmail them and utilize their talents to his own nasty advantage. Oh, how very pleased I was to see that psychotic freak (aka Jason Schwartzman), not having enjoyed him on screen since his horn-rimmed, velvet-clad and charismatic debut as Max Fischer in Rushmore. Midway through the film, however, the thrill wore off as I realized how distasteful, gross and just wrong his character turned out to be. You still catch sight of Schwartzman’s inherent charm — it’s just overshadowed by the obsessive, girl-sniffing, hair-collecting, sadistic and ridiculous (let’s not forget horny) Ethan (who Schwartzman portrays just a little too well). Other faces include Devon Sawa as smooth-talking front man Dave, Michael C. Maronna as Jeff, the sneaky information gatherer who enjoys a good fart, and (another sight for sore eyes) Jason Segel (aka Nick on the-too-good-to-last NBC TV series “Freaks and Geeks”) as Sam.

The closest thing to a saving grace are the film’s signature vignettes: Without warning, we’re flung into “young-man” unrestrained day dreams, either taking the present moment a few steps further in their own direction or jumping into a well-worn, well-loved fantasy. Like when Sam proclaims, “You treat a hot girl like dirt and she’ll stick to you like mud,” then mentally illustrates it (remember, men are very visual).

Overall, the boy’s clever tactics really aren’t that clever, and neither are the director’s. Half of the scenes flop to the ground like soggy pancakes: such as the trio’s escapade into language class, modeled after a mock Japanese film with scratchy celluloid and off-kilter dubbed dialogue (it’s been done, guys, many many times).

Like most honeymoons, the film starts out promising, with some really funny bits and jocular caricatures of teachers and student stereotypes — but like its title, Slackers lacks in originality and doing what it takes to make a passing movie.

Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].