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    The Wackness

    Dope finds

    A buddy movie with real heart, Jonathan Levine's "The Wackness" offers up two stellar lead performances in Josh Peck and Ben Kingsley.


    "I see the dopeness in everything, and you just see the wackness." —Olivia Thirlby to Josh Peck in "The Wackness."

    Written and directed by: Jonathan Levine.
    Produced by: Keith Calder, Felipe Marino, Joe Neurauter.
    Cast: Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Mary-Kate Olsen, Method Man.
    Cinematography: Petra Komer.
    Edited by: Josh Noyes.
    Music by: David Tom.
    Production design by: Michael Clancy.
    Art direction by: Michael Clancy.
    Costumes by: Michael Clancy.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Part drug pusher's dream vacation, part buddy movie, part coming-of-age like story, "The Wackness" is as wacky as it is wonderful, a sepia-toned love letter to NYC punctuated by blazing hip-hop and two winning performances in Josh Peck and Ben Kingsley.

    For Peck and Kingsley make for an oddly engaging couple in Jonathan Levine's audacious comedy about sex, drugs, and unexpected friendships.

    New York, Summer, 1994. The thermometer tops one hundred as Luke Shapiro (Peck), big time drug dealer and small time reluctant virgin, graduates high school and sets his sights on college. Also on his radar, at first peripherally, pedantically, is Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), stepdaughter of his shrink, Dr. Jeffery Squires, M.D. (Kingsley), whom Luke has been seeing, "for depression." To pay his way, and to help stave off his parents' (with whom he lives) imminent eviction, Luke sells Method Man-supplied weed out of an ice cream vendor's cart that reads "F ESH & DEL CIOUS ICES."

    The Wackness  
    High-billed Olsen twin Mary-Kate (as a free-spirited, summer of love-styled hippie) has two brief scenes (sans sib) as does doe-eyed Jane Adams as Elanor, a spacey regular on Luke's route. And sultry Famke Janssen plays Squires' sultry yet dissatisfied wife.

    Staunch support from the typically fine Thirlby aside — she's picked some very interesting assignments to date, hasn't she? — this is Peck's and Kingley's picture from the opening scene in Squires' dingy, hazy office where dust motes intermingle with reefer smoke. Imagine Casey Affleck grafted onto Adam Sandler — cuddly and goofball but with a real presence: that's Peck in this film. As for Kingsley it's as if Harvey Keitel swallowed up Peter Dinklage whole and then spat him back out again a soliloquy at a time. Peck's and Kingley's back and forth repartee is invariably priceless but there's more to "The Wackness" than the expected bong-o belly laughs (the film finds it has more in common with "Juno" than, say, "Harold & Kumar," and not simply because of Thirlby's grounding presence). Writer/director Levine takes some real chances, both with his characters and his stylistic approach to the medium, but comes out on top almost every time.

      Imagine Casey Affleck grafted onto Adam Sandler — cuddly and goofball but with a real presence: that's Peck in this film.
    As he did in "You Kill Me" (alongside Téa Leoni), Kingsley once again proves a total team player. He looks great — neat goatee; shaggy, unkempt hair; sniffer as pronounced as the Central Park skyline; all topped off with Stallone's pork pie hat — and delivers up a performance that's both ridiculous and tender, scary yet lovable. Peck matches him joint for joint, with Levine's screenplay taking him some daring places, emotionally. For all its neat aural and visual assaults (including pot shots at that son'bitch Giuliani) the film works best when it's simply Peck and Kingsley trading talk (and grass). It's then that something natural and credible emerges.

    The Wackness  
    "The Wackness," an assured and engaging male bonding picture punctuated by one man's — all men's — innate drive to score, dwarfs other stoner comedies with its intelligence, boys-gone-wild humor, and surprising compassion. It's anything but dopey.

    JUNE 30, 2008

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