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Can You Kick It?

"The Wackness" depends on fond memories of old hip-hop and young love, or at least some lenience.

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There are a lot of ideas bouncing around "The Wackness." It's about a young marijuana dealer (Josh Peck) who needs a psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley), but pays him in bags of pot. It's got Mary-Kate Olsen in a cameo as a far-out hippie chick who lets Kingsley's doc make out with her in a pub phone booth. It's set in 1994 New York, a fact pointed out frequently with references to hip-hop classics, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the death of Kurt Cobain. It's a busy movie, and many of the plot points are amusing, but what they have to do with each other, or with the main characters' coming-of-age and midlife-crisis stories, is hard to say.


When we meet the headphones-collared Shapiro (Peck), he's having one of his usual contentious meetings with Dr. Squires (Kingsley), who prescribes "getting laid" over pills as the best cure for the chronic ennui cramping his patient's first summer of freedom. Shapiro, we are told, has trouble getting girls. Why a handsome marijuana dealer with mad loot and dope hookups would have such a problem is a question asked, if not convincingly answered, by the movie's end. All we can say at first about Shapiro is that he's enterprising enough to partner with a bodyguard-strapped drug source (Method Man), but not to score a date with his crush Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). She happens to be the stepdaughter of Dr. Squires, who is separating from his wife (an implausibly younger-looking Famke Janssen).


Writer-director Jonathan Levine, treading water in swampy autobiographical territory, also works in something about downward mobility as Shapiro's family faces eviction from their comfy Upper East Side apartment, though what their misfortune has to do with New York in the '90s, or Shapiro, or hip-hop groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, is elusive. The more ropes of plot the movie throws us, the more easily it slips from our grasp. By the end of "The Wackness," you may wish the soundtrack had more of that old hip-hop in it, or more scenes of New York, or just a little of Shapiro's product to get you through the embarrassing phone messages he leaves for Stephanie. In the end we get the impression that, like the main character, this movie is an immature piece of work. Wholeheartedly on Shapiro's side, it's stuck with his naive, limited and ultimately wack point of view. (R) 95 min.  S

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