States of Independence
Dazed's ultimate guide to US creativity

The most lovable, all-American schmucks in cinema

In the tradition of Eastbound & Down's super slacker Kenny Powers, we chart the most useless dudes in cinematic history

Kenny Powers
Kenny Powers in Eastbound & Down

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. 

David Gordon Green is best known for his work on HBO's Eastbound & Down and Pineapple Express. However, he has amassed an impressive back catalogue of indie film credits with films like All the Real Girls, George Washington and upcoming thriller Joe. Today on Dazed, he imparts some key career know-how, selects a roster of fresh talent and gives us a sneak peek at his upcoming film

Slackers, shmoes or just plain schmucks – call them what you will, but with cult heroes like the Pineapple Express dudes on his CV, David Gordon Green's cinematic roster has plenty of 'em. Perhaps the most iconic of all is Kenny Powers – the burned-out former baseball pro who returns to his old middle school as a physical education teacher. Eastbound & Down is a classic riches-to-rags tale of the perennial shmuck, with David Gordon Green's 12-episode arc ranking among his finest comedic work. Inspired by the director's dedication to depicting foolish dumb-dumbs, here are our choice picks for the most lovable, cinematic schmucks. 

EASTBOUND & DOWN (2009-2013) – KENNY POWERS 

Without a doubt the most eminently quotable schmuck of recent times, Eastbound & Down stars Danny McBride as a down-and-out former baseball pitcher who accepts a job as a substitute P.E. teacher at his old middle school. Later series' take him to Mexico and see him faking his own death, but early episodes cemented Powers as the ultimate bad teacher. One highlight in those early episodes? When he takes ecstacy at the school dance. Rock 'n' roll.

RAISING ARIZONA (1987) – HERBERT I. “HI” MCDONNOUGH

David Gordon Green's upcoming Southern thriller, Joe, stars Nicolas Cage as an ex-con in what critics are whispering might be his best performance yet. But cast your mind back to 1987, when Cage lent his acting chops to a very different kind of con altogether. Playing perennial criminal Herbert I. "HI" McDunnough, Raising Arizona is the oddball romance that turns into a caper when HI's new policewoman wife (Holly Hunter) finds out she can't have kids – promptly instructing him to steal a baby for her. Opening to mixed reviews but later popping up in the best comedies of the century lists, Cage's well-meaning, moustache-sporting HI is surely the most lovable schmuck there is.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) – JEFF SPICOLI

He might be better known these days for thinking deep thoughts in Terrence Malick movies and dating the world's most beautiful women, but Sean Penn first came to our attention back in the early 80s as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. A coming-of-age teen comedy for the MTV generation, the Sean Penn subplot overshadowed the leads with its tale of irresponsible and irrepressible stoned surfer Spicoli as he faces off against an uptight history teacher. Here's a classic one-liner for the wilfully unemployed: "All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine." 

BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989) – BILL AND TED

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter star alongside Napoleon, Beethoven, Socrates, Billy the Kid, Abraham Lincoln and some other dudes in the film that cemented the high-school slacker as a staple of popular culture. Time-travelling through history in order to pass a most heinous history exam, you shouldn't underestimate the power of these dudes, dude – spawning a sequel, TV series, comics, video games and even a short-lived breakfast cereal (Bill & Ted's Excellent Cereal, duh), Bill & Ted proved that good-for-nothings truly shall inherit the earth.

STAND BY ME (1986) – VERN TESSIO

"If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That's easy – Pez. Cherry-flavoured Pez. No question about it." True say, Vern, true say. Stand By Me is a legend amongst coming-of-age stories, narrating the journey of four boys who set out to find a dead body that one of them overheard his brother talking about. Starring a fresh-faced River Phoenix, Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Feldman, it's eleven-year-old Jerry O'Connell's star turn as the put-upon, pleasantly chubby Vern that stands out. Often picked on by the other boys, he is notably the only kid of the four who does not cry once. 

RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS (2001) – RAY HASEK

As Ray Hasek, Steve Zahn charms his way into a teen-prego Beverly's life (Drew Barrymore) by comforting Bev as she sobs on a toilet in a house party. Since we've all been there, you can imagine how endearing that can be. But just like all schmucks, the terms of endearment have a hidden clause. Ray eventually admits to a heroin problem, spending all the family's money on his next fix. This ain't a light-hearted, feel-good schmuck, but this trailer park douche rejigs his moral compass at the end of the film, and does something (which I will not spoil for you) that leaves him with a good guy name.

CAN'T HARDLY WAIT (1998) – KENNY FISHER 

Seth Green should win an Oscar for general services to shmuckness. After all, he voices one of the most famous shmucks in animated television – teenager Chris Griffin in Family Guy. But cast your mind back to his genius turn as Kenny "Special K" Fisher in guilty pleasure flick Can't Hardly Wait. Playing a consummate "wigga" who wants to lose his virginity before the end of the night, he delivers genius lines like "Why you gotta be wasting my flavor?" and "That is a 'Fragrance of Love' scented candle, bitch!" that go a long way towards distracting you from the soppy, lovesick Ethan Embry plotline. At a graduation party that views like a who's-who-of-the-90s TV special, it turns out that Special K's the guy with a secret heart of gold.

JOE DIRT (2001) – JOE DIRT

Penned by and starring David Spade, Joe Dirt is a classic tale of a white trash dude who cleans up his act – and yes, he's a cleaner. Disrespected and dissed by all he comes across, he decides to track down his parents and discover his roots. And whilst Joe Dirt is neither an instant classic nor a slow-burner, it simply wouldn't be an accurate countdown of schmucks-on-film without an appearance by David Spade.

VARIOUS – KEVIN SMITH'S SILENT BOB 

Kevin Smith's Silent Bob is a cinematic creation in the tradition of auteurs dating from 1920s silent cinema to the French Nouvelle Vague right through to David Lynch. Or, at least, we think it should be considered as such. A masterpiece of slacker dude heritage, Jay and Silent Bob appear as a duo throughout Kevin Smith's fictional universe the View Askewniverse: first appearing in Clerks, and later in Chasing Amy and Dogma. In 2001, the pair got their own starring role in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. True to his name, Silent Bob rarely speaks, but when he does, its often quite profound; it's his hand gestures and eyebrow movements, however, that really say it all. 

SUPERBAD (2007) – SETH 

Though it was released back in 2007, few high-school films since have matched up to the super funny, super cringeworthy and super memorable hijinks of Superbad. Charting, in great teen movie tradition, the efforts of two high school seniors to lose their virginities and upgrade their social standing at their crush's party, the plot features fake IDs, gross-outs galore and a single day structure that drew comparisons to Dazed and Confused and Can't Hardly Wait. Whilst the two cops who befriend Fogell (aka. McLovin) are excellent examples of the genre, it's Jonah Hill's character that really takes the prize: that combination of relentless ineffectiveness and inexplicable charm that makes a great all-American schmuck.

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