directed by Richard Linklater
(Detour, 1991)

Looking for something a little different to rent this weekend? Something without spies or car chases or corrupt cops or sex scenes that leave you saying, "No, no, that could never happen."

Then look no further than Richard Linklater's 1991 independent release Slacker, an oddball film that drifts along on dream feet and never gets tangled up in its own plot -- because it has none.

Slacker opens conventionally enough with a young man (Linklater) dozing on an inter-city bus. He awakens just in time to get off in Austin, Texas, where he hails a cab even though he's short of cash. There he explains to a stoical cabbie the dream he just had, which included lunch with Leo Tolstoy, and his philosophy of life, which sets the ground rules for the film to follow.

"Every thought you have creates its own reality," he tells the cabbie, who looks like he'd rather be listening to an Oilers game. "You know, it's like every choice or decision you make, the thing you choose not to do fractions off and becomes its own reality, you know, and just goes on from there, forever."

Just what the cabbie thinks of his passenger's dream we never find out, because Linklater hops out of the cab shortly after that, only to pass a car leaving the scene of a hit-and-run involving a female pedestrian who's left for dead by a jogger and a businessman who meet over the body and become more interested in each other than in helping out.

But what happens to the businessman and the jogger, we never learn, as the camera becomes more concerned with the car, which returns to the frame and parks in front of a nearby house. Out pops the driver, a young man who strolls into the house just in time to answer the phone and learn that his mother has been left for road kill by a hit-and-run driver.

And what happens to the driver we never find out, because as the police take him away in cuffs, the camera latches onto another young man with a guitar, who ends up playing on a street corner, where a young woman drops some money into his case.

And so Slacker continues, with each new event serving only to introduce us to a new character, each of whom takes us down his own yellow brick road.

Along the way, we meet a hippie who's hung up on "repressed transmissions" from space; a young woman trying to sell a Madonna pap smear; three guys drowning a tent and a typewriter; and a videophile who lives in a room full of TV sets, which he's trying to bring into harmonious equilibrium.

Probably the most unusual encounter involves a burglar who's caught in the act, then invited to dinner by a college professor who recalls fighting alongside Orwell and the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. But it isn't long before we find out that the professor is living his own separate reality, too.

So the film proceeds, piling bit upon bit until it adds up to a mountain. The bits, not surprisingly, vary with the quality of the acting, most of which is semipro at best, and the tone of the film is as flat as the Texas prairie it's shot on.

But what Slacker has going for it is what so many films lack: an idea. It also has a master plan, which it follows, at times to the point of tedium, at times to the point of brilliance.

Along the way, we're introduced to fragments of philosophy, history, literature, pop psychology and downright bull, all shot in a cinema verite style that suggests to us we're looking at real life at the same time we're peeking into a filmmaker's fantasy.

Unfortunately, the "funnest" part of that fantasy, Linklater's philosophy, is revealed early on, leaving Slacker nowhere to go but down. He outperforms his performers in a way that leaves you wishing he might have saved himself for last, or at least come back to himself to give the film a sense of closure.

In the end, perhaps, Linklater has given us a film that's a better springboard for debate than it is a movie: something that's more fun to talk about than it is to watch. But we can't talk about it unless we've watched it, can we?

So watch. Watch!

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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