Every moviegoing generation must contend with the fact that great directors don't come in bunches, though, as P.T. Barnum observed long ago, suckers do. And it's to these poor, born-every-minute souls that Slacker, a subcultural tribute to vagrancy by first-time filmmaker Richard Linklater, is unwittingly dedicated. The film is populated by the plainest, most misshapen, and most unremittingly stupid people this young director could lay his inexperienced hands on. Through some curious stroke of chance, however, he has found his audience in that cast. Only the plainest, most misshapen, and most unremittingly stupid could sit through Slacker and feel compensated.
Films about dunderheadedness can be tasteful and intelligent (such as Being There) or deliberately crass (as Wayne's World was a few months ago). But I suspect Richard Linklater would never concede the negative-point I.Q. evinced by his film (in which case, never was a director more in tune, aesthetically and auctorially, with his non-subject). Slacker stars "98 people who live in Austin, Texas" and deals with folks who simply "hang out." Hence, we assume, the term "slacker": a person who slacks off rather than make a contribution to life, or live productively. Few of these slackers work, and most spend their time walking about Austin and imposing their wide-ranging ruminations on other, undeserving people. They enter and leave the frame as dispassionately, and smugly, as a street hooker's list of johns.
And what a parade of local color is brought before us! Linklater appears at the start, presumably playing a new arrival to Austin, gets off the bus and enters a taxi. He regales the cab driver with a hyperbolic and meaningless theory about various states of reality. Another fellow traveler walks with a student and tells him about the U.S. government's conspiracy in space ("We've been on Mars since '62"). Another, a librarian wearing a T-shirt depicting Jack Ruby's assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald on the front and with a portrait of Oswald on the back, obsesses about JFK literature, speculating over whether Jack and Jackie were amphetamine freaks. An old man catches a robber at his house, then takes him for a walk about the city, giving him what amounts to his life's story. An indigent talks about filling "bellies of the pigs who exploit us." And on and on. Only the mindlessly courageous can stick it out to the end.
It goes without saying that not a shred of light is cast on any subject, whether it be life, death, race relations, democracy, class, sex, homelessness, art, politics, extraterrestrial life, states of consciousness, remorse, assassination theories, cinema, car repair, thievery, student experience, Texas, music, media, travel, or the self-professed slackery, all of which - along with many, many other themes and characters - make fleeting appearances in this stupefyingly amorphous film.
And yet, Slacker isn't even bad enough to be good. What it is, and outrageously so, is tiresome. After 97 minutes of this protracted taradiddle, one yearns for the profound eloquence of silence. This is, it scarcely needs adding, an inauspicious debut, not to be ranked in the same universe as first efforts by Charles Lane, Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, and Steve Kloves. Not that the odious comparison will hurt its prospects in South Beach (our own slacker's queendom) any.
Written and directed by Richard Linklater.
Opens Friday at the Alliance Film/Video Project.