The wackness: that which is bad. Not to be confused, of course, with the dopeness, that which is good. Between those two poles you’ll find Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), the rap-obsessed teenager around whom this comedy drama revolves. It is also the best place to put director Jonathan Levine’s follow-up to his sensual slasher All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. This likeable but slight hymn to his adolescence in ’90s New York seems not so much cut from the same cloth as films like Thumbsucker, Charlie Bartlett and Igby Goes Down as sewn together from their trimmings.
Winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance, The Wackness treads a gleefully amoral path similar to the one its disaffected hero – a virginal high-school grad who sells ganja from an ice-cream cart – takes around 1994 Manhattan. Blithely oblivious to Mayor Giuliani’s crackdown on low-level crime, Luke uses his unconventional summer job as a refuge from his bickering parents and a city he prefers to view through a narcotic haze. His only ally is his psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley), an ageing hippie whose time he pays for with bags of weed. Yet even that relationship seems doomed after he falls for the shrink’s wilful stepdaughter (Juno’s Olivia Thirlby), a previously unattainable classmate who is happy to hang with him and his dotty clientele.
Since the latter includes a convincingly neurotic Jane Adams and a hilariously strung-out Mary-Kate Olsen, there’s no shortage of colourful turns. But it’s Kingsley who slips Levine his strongest card, etching a deliciously droll essay in debauched decrepitude and addled stoner logic. Peck, having lost around half his Mean Creek heft, is pretty fine too as the spaced-out dawg with the wigga slang. Still, much as we enjoy their company, this raucous rite of passage doesn’t really amount to much more than a rambling, fitfully entertaining excuse to regale the audience with an entire mix-tape’s worth of vintage hip hop classics.
Its not quite da bomb, but this nostalgic throwback to the recent past still has enough phat acting (especially from Sir Ben) and slammin scenes to seem both fly and fresh. Worth catching? Damn skippy.