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Review:  The real-life drug thriller ‘The Preppie Connection’ never fully clicks

Thomas Mann in the 1980s-set “The Preppie Connection.”
Thomas Mann in the 1980s-set “The Preppie Connection.”
(IFC Films Release)

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” star Thomas Mann stays in high school for “The Preppie Connection,” a ripped-from-yesterday’s-headlines drug thriller with a coming-of-age twist. Writer-director Joseph Castelo aims for a tone midway between “Goodfellas” and “Less Than Zero,” but while the film is well-acted and appealingly slick, the end result lacks novelty.

Mann plays Toby, a working-class Connecticut kid who gets a scholarship to a prestigious prep school, where his wealthy classmates treat him like dirt. Then Toby befriends a Colombian exchange student and takes advantage of a trip to his new pal’s homeland to buy cocaine. When he gets back home, he’s unsurprisingly more popular.

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Set in the 1980s — and based on a true story— “The Preppie Connection” relies on a pulsing synthesizer score to evoke nostalgia for old teensploitation flicks. An incessant Mann voice-over details the intricacies of Toby’s growing narcotics-dealing business.

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But when the hero insists that his misadventures weren’t “like in the movies,” he’s fooling himself. Nearly everything about “The Preppie Connection” — from the high-school class war to the flat, explanatory narration — has been cribbed from other, better films.

Closing credits footage of the real “Toby” suggests that a documentary about this subject might have had more kick than this fictionalized version, which has been cut with a lot of filler.

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“The Preppie Connection”

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No rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica.


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