The oh-so-novel hook of a dope-smoking, pill-popping, graffiti-writing, water balloon-launching ex-hippie shrink played by Sir Ben Kingsley — he’s not supposed to be doing such things! Irreverent! — is the clever extent of writer-director Jonathan Levine’s accurately titled The Wackness. This is the same old Sundance-approved “quirky” dramedy that’s been sadly dominating American independent filmmaking for the past decade, only here ensconced in I Love the 90s nostalgia that can’t even get the early Giuliani era halfway right in look or atmosphere.
Painfully hyperacting and slipping from a fake New Yawk accent into his native English brogue, Kingsley plays Dr. Squires, an immature, midlife crisis-suffering therapist whose teenage patient Luke (Josh Peck) sells weed from an ice cream cart to save his inept parents from eviction. Luke pays for sessions with pot, falls in love with the doc’s bored stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby), and tries to save Squires himself from depression brought on by divorce. Luke’s also a white-boy gangster poseur circa 1994, and Levine unconvincingly evokes the time period with facetious, poke-your-eye-out retro parlance (“word,” “chill,” “I want to listen to Boyz II Men when I’m with you”), krazy kharacters and kameos (Mary Kate Olsen as a 90210-referencing Phishhead), toothless jeers at Giuliani’s urban Disneyfication (Starbucks — booooo!) and a frequently unrepresentative hip hop soundtrack (‘Just a Friend’, ‘Summertime’ — really?). Containing only poor hints of satire and a privileged attitude toward the city’s racial and cultural politics, The Wackness might have worked as a send-up of Upper East Side wannabes and neurotics if Levine hadn’t settled for over-lit, fuzzy-focused coming-of-age melodrama, with the embarrassing result that his film comes off like James Toback helming an episode of Felicity.