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By Craig Detweiler
thewacknessbuzz.jpgAfter Disney struggled to control the innocent image of Miley Cyrus, now Nickelodeon must contend with their teenage star of “Drake & Josh” playing a drug dealer in the hip-hop drama, “The Wackness” (opening this weekend). After regular appearances on “The Amanda Show,” Drake Bell and Josh Peck were granted their own series on Nickelodeon, playing stepbrothers in a mini-Brady Bunch. Yet, during breaks from the show, Josh was stretching his acting chops in darker, independent films like “Spun” and “Mean Creek.” With “The Wackness,” Peck breaks out of his nerdy image from into a complex role as a brooding pot dealer.
Peck plays Luke Shapiro, a poor kid in New York City who is struggling to help his parents pay the rent. While his classmates spend the summer in the Hamptons, Luke hits the pavement, disguising his drug deals as an ice cream vendor job. His most faithful customer is Dr. Squires, a depressed psychologist played by the captivating Ben Kingsley. Dr. Squires trades therapy sessions for Josh’s marijuana. Kingsley wrings major laughs out of his deep bong hits.


Their friendship is tested when Dr. Squires’ step-daughter Stephanie becomes Josh’s summer crush. As Stephanie, Olivia Thirlby shifts from quirky supporting roles in “Juno” and Snow Angels into a full-fledged presence. She challenges Josh to focus on “the dopeness” (happiness) of life rather “the wackness” (depressing-ness). More teen misbehavior arrives when Mary Kate Olsen plays a hippie chick who hits on Dr. Squires. “The Wackness” is about adults acting like children and children forced to grow up too fast.
“The Wackness” won the Audience Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. For a film about talking people out of suicide, “The Wackness” somehow communicates a sunny vibe. Set in the steamy summer of 1994, the soundtrack features hip hop classics from Nas, Biz Markie and the Notorious B.I.G.. The movie even features Method Man from the Wu Tang Clan as Luke’s Jamaican supplier.
In a summer when digitized superheroes have dominated the box office, “The Wackness” arrives as a low-fi alternative. Director Jonathan Levine mines his own childhood memories to create this valentine to New York City. Given the harsh realities of the war and the economy, we may be already waxing nostalgic for the 1990s.
Craig Detweiler’s newest book is Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century. He blogs at Purple State of Mind.

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