Richard Linklater's 1993 Dazed and Confused pitted sadistic jocks against their oddball prey at a Texas high school on the cusp of the summer of 1976. The movie was loose and spirited, goosed along by period rock hits, and it's now revered as a classic. Everybody Wants Some!!, which the writer-director calls a "spiritual sequel" to that earlier film, moves along to college at the end of the summer of 1980. There's still a lot of music in the air, but now we mostly have only the jocks for company. They're a more likable crew than the previous bunch, but the movie is even looser than its predecessor, and its non-story is sometimes talky and bland. There's no predicting these things, but it doesn't feel like a classic.
As was the case with Dazed and Confused, which helped launch the careers of Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Rory Cochrane, this new film—which naturally features a whole new cast—benefits from the presence of some memorably personable young actors. Blake Jenner (Glee) plays a freshman named Jake, who arrives on a baseball scholarship at the fictitious Southeast Texas University three days before the start of the school year. Checking into one of the frat-style off-campus jock houses, he encounters a predictably motley assortment of fellow ball-players—the studly McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), wigged-out Niles (Juston Street), geeky Nesbit (Austin Amelio), pot philosopher Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), and the effortlessly cool Finnegan (Glen Powell) among them. For the next three days we follow these guys around as they smoke dope, knock back bottles of Schlitz and Lone Star, play foosball and Space Invaders, and cruise around hitting on chicks. There's no Animal House-level debauchery—most of the fun being had has a sweet innocence—but one's tolerance for guy stuff may well be tested.
Unlike Dazed and Confused, this heavily bro-centric movie has minimal need of women, which is too bad—Jake's attraction to a winsome theater major named Beverly (Zoey Deutch, of Vampire Academy) gives the picture a much-needed emotional center. It's a shame the captivating Deutch doesn't have more to do, because she lends Jake another dimension, one that's lacking in his many pals. Jenner is an entirely appealing lead—we never grow tired of having him around. But Deutch and Powell—a virtuoso wisecracker with a hundred-watt grin—are the movie's true stars.
Linklater has devised economical ways to illuminate the period in which the movie is set. In their unending campaign to get laid, the guys make the rounds of various nightspots—one a booming disco called the Sound Machine; another a country hangout, complete with a mechanical bull and "Cotton-Eyed Joe"; and another a newfangled punk venue where the boys are clearly out of place, but can't imagine caring. The pop-cultural changes of the dawning '80s are further charted on the soundtrack, with a cascade of hits by Blondie, Devo, Hot Chocolate, Van Halen, Parliament, the Cars and the Sugarhill Gang. (There's some pretty slick white-boy rapping here, too.)
The picture has its moments as it drifts along. There's a lovely swimming-hole scene, a glowingly lit al fresco party at the theater students' house outside of town, and a giddy burst of vintage pothead gibberish. ("Language is a construct, man…the fuckin' Mayans knew it.") But whenever the jocks take over completely with their incessant banter, the story wobbles. There are too many of these guys, and some of them seem interchangeable. (Maybe it's the surfeit of mustaches.) Linklater has acknowledged that the movie is autobiographical, and clearly the details of time and place mean a lot to him. If only we'd all been there as well.