"Slacker" (at the Nuart) is a film that celebrates tedium. If you think that sounds just a teensy bit boring, you don't know the half of it.
Welcome to Austin, Tex., which, if this shaggy-dog tale is any indication, is clearly the ennui capital of the known world, filled with self-centered, undirected, overly verbal people who can barely be bothered to get out of bed.
Anyone who's ever spent any time in a university town knows folks like this. Recent and not-quite graduates who consider hanging out a full-time job, good-natured lollygaggers who wander from coffee shops to bars and back again, slowly boring each other to death with their artlessly self-important prattle. But just because these slightly cracked cracker-barrel philosophers are a common sight, does that mean it was a good idea to fill an entire movie with them?
Writer-director and Austin resident Richard Linklater evidently thought so. Like an anthropologist in Borneo, he became fascinated with slackers, spent years writing down their off-center comments in notebooks, and finally decided that the world cried out for a movie that showed slackers being slack, that followed aimless people on an aimless tour of their aimless lives.
Hiring board-certified slackers as his cast members, using those notebooks as the basis for his script and filming it all in a quasi-documentary style, Linklater has come up with a dawn-to-yawn day in the life of Austin.
If you think this film stoops to utilize a plot, you haven't been paying attention. What it choses to do instead is follow each particular slacker (there are apparently close to 100, and counting them is probably as good a way as any to pass the time) for a few seconds or a few minutes until another member of the species wanders somnolently into the frame.
To be fair, a very few of these people have fairly engaging raps. Maybe its just the contrast to the really boring types, but the man who believes we've been on Mars since May 22, 1962, the wired young woman who's trying to sell a genuine Madonna Pap smear, and the J.F.K. assassination buff who is finishing a book that just might be called "Conspiracy a Go-Go" are amusing enough. For the rest, when the way characters are described in the credits ("Dostoevsky wanna-be," "Having a breakthrough day") is more involving than the characters themselves, you know you're in for a long evening.
Aside from preserving these folks for a presumably grateful posterity and convincingly depicting Austin as an open-air lunatic asylum, "Slacker" (rated R) does not offer much to anyone who likes to stay awake. Though it may be, as one of its characters says, that "a video image is much more powerful and useful than an actual event," you couldn't prove it by what's on the screen here.
Released by Orion Classics. Directed, written, produced by Richard Linklater. Cinematographer Lee Daniel. Editor Scott Rhodes. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (language).