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Two Bobs, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Rated R for pervasive graphic nerdity."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: Writer/Director Tim McCanlies described "The 2 Bobs" as his attempt to do a Kevin Smith movie, which is funny since Smith most recently released his attempt at a Judd Apatow movie. Depending how you define that, he's either falling short or going further than Smith likely ever will: This isn't nearly as talky as Smith's films, but McCanlies has certainly raised the bar in attempting to mainstream nerd humor.

The title characters are video game designers, friends since high school; "Vertical Bob" (Tyler Francavilla) builds great first-person shooter engines while "Horizontal Bob" (Devin Ratray) creates the user interface for GotheM (Gods on the Machine) Games. They've just finished their newest masterpiece, late and over-budget, of course, but they appear to have been swindled by their investors. Along with level designer Doofus (Cody Kasch), creature designer The Dark Prince (Leonardo Nam), and playtester Munch (Mika Boorem), they trace their repossessed computers to the lair of The Spam King (Jay Chandreasekhar), who is also being stalked by Jane Ann (Tamara Jolaine) and Jane Ellen (Evelyn Hurley), who blame email spam for their father's death. They'd better find their machines, because if not, a non-compete clause will keep them from working with computers and they really don't understand anything else... least of all girls.

Trying to base a movie on geek-oriented humor can be tricky for a number of reasons. Geeks have tribes, after all; as much as I can generally hold my own with the sci-fi/pop culture obsessives, this movie's in-jokes are probably best appreciated by the gamers. Which isn't a bad choice; there's a lot of gamers out there (an article published during the recent election noted that there are more people in America playing World of Warcraft than working on farms, so why aren't they treated as an important voting bloc?). Roughly 99.9999% of the population has been annoyed by spam, so that's certainly a villain we can all agree to despise. An argument could therefore be made that the gaming-oriented jokes will play to a larger audience than the Austin-specific bits (they got huge laughs at this festival, but Austinites rival New Yorkers in terms of being outspoken with their civic pride).

Fortunately, The 2 Bobs does not require a great deal of knowledge about gaming minutiae, although gamers might catch a bunch of jokes I missed. McCanlies is not particularly concerned with subtlety here. The staff of GotheM games is a roll call of nerd stereotypes - the skinny/shy one, the fat/brash one, the scruffy one, the cosplayer, the cute girl who is actually socially capable but is just one of the guys at heart - although it loves rather than mocks them. Nerds aren't the only stereotypes he has fun with; there's jokes about everyone from from Texans to transvestites to the elderly to hypocritical Christians. Mostly, the jokes are too broad to be really be offensive, because nothing so over-the-top can be connected to actual Texans/transvestites/old people/Christians. The jokes come roughly every thirty or forty-five seconds, so there's a good chance that even if the hit rate isn't great for a particular audience member, he or she will still laugh quite a bit.

This movie is very episodic; when the movie shifted to a double date between the Bobs and Janes in the middle, it felt like that was what the movie was going to be about from then going forward. It's almost surprising when elements from the beginning re-emerge toward the end. That's not a bad thing, as the individual episodes are mostly very funny, but things disappear for long enough to be thought of as dropped, rather than a ball in the air.

The cast gets the job done; they're a group of people who seem vaguely familiar, though you'll seldom be able to remember from where. Devin Ratray is consistently funny as the broadest of the characters (in more ways than one); Mika Boorem is pretty good at selling the nerd fantasy girl in more or less the same part Kristen Bell played in Fanboys. Jay Chandrasekhar is oily, smug, and ridiculous as The Spam King. The cast as a whole works together pretty well as an ensemble, although the film does occasionally seem to have one or two more characters than it really needs.

Fortunately, none of those characters are guys who are comedy deadweight. "The 2 Bobs" is uneven at times, but that's a result of an earnest desire to make sure everything in it can potentially make the audience laugh, even if that means the pieces don't quite fit together smoothly.

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originally posted: 04/11/09 15:03:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Tim McCanlies

Written by
  Tim McCanlies

  Tyler Francavilla
  Devin Ratray
  Mika Boorem
  Cody Kasch
  Leonardo Nam

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