'Superbad'


Maybe you need a "Y" chromosome to fully appreciate "Superbad," a raucous, super-raunchy celebration of teen angst and lust -- not necessarily in that order.

Or maybe you just need to overlook all the missed opportunities and go with the flow -- of precious bodily fluids, of rude-and-crude teen hijinks, of scattershot jokes.

Somewhere amid the movie's arrested-development, how-low-can-you-go comedic approach, there's a (dare we say it?) thoughtful, insightful character study waiting to emerge.

Like a bacterium growing in a petri dish in a high school lab, it's there -- but you need a microscope to find it.

Besides, nobody's much interested in seeking it out. Everybody would rather party.

And while most audiences undoubtedly will have a blast whooping it up at "Superbad," I kept thinking how much better -- and funnier -- it might have been if you could laugh with it as easily as you laugh at it.

Then again, as long as you're laughing, who cares?

That's the prevailing attitude throughout "Superbad," in which our teen heroes attempt to deal with their raging hormones -- and their (almost) unspoken separation anxiety.

You see, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) have been best friends forever. Like most teenage boys, motormouth Seth is a walking id (or maybe a walking gonad is more like it), obsessed by the mysteries of sexual activity. Unlike some teens, however, Seth loves expressing every smutty impulse -- the kind shy guy Evan's too embarrassed to admit he shares.

Once they graduate from high school, however, all that's going to change -- because Evan got into a snooty Ivy League school and Seth didn't, which means the latter's headed to No-Name U.

So the pressure's on -- not only to survive high school with minimal humiliation (a not-insignificant achievement), but to reverse a lifetime of loserdom with the ladies before the guys begin their collegiate careers.

Tonight could be the night. Especially when their even nerdier classmate Fogell (scene-stealing newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse) transforms himself, courtesy of a fake ID, into a man-of-the-world Hawaiian organ donor named McLovin, thereby enabling them to supply the booze -- and earn multiple cool-guy points -- for a party hosted by Seth's hottie-personified cooking class partner (Emma Stone).

Naturally, with McLovin in charge, complications ensue -- especially when, in his attempts to score the aforementioned booze, he encounters a pair of cops (played by "Knocked Up's" Seth Rogen and "Saturday Night Live's" Bill Hader) at least as immature as our testosterone-fueled protagonists.

"Superbad's" screenplay (by Rogen and his longtime writing partner, Evan Goldberg) began when the co-writers were teens themselves.

As a result, it carries the sting of truth, chronicling horrors and humiliations in agonizing detail -- but with little of the understanding or depth a less self-indulgently juvenile perspective would provide.

And while it's not fair to compare, the movie's all-in-a-hard-day's-night narrative structure invites inevitable comparisons with such coming-of-age classics as "American Graffiti" and "Dazed and Confused." (The comparisons don't exactly favor "Superbad.")

But there are welcome signs that director Greg Mottola is on the job.

Making an at-long-last return to the big screen, 11 years after his indie gem "The Daytrippers" marked him as a filmmaker to watch, Mottola can't do much about "Superbad's" sketchy, overlong script or underdeveloped characters.

Yet he finds some quirky ways to enliven the proceedings, especially through a retro '70s soundtrack and a fuzzy visual style. Both give "Superbad" a timeless feel that echoes its protagonists' timeless quest: to get drunk and/or laid.

And by the time they've survived the slings and arrows of outrageous adolescence, Mottola manages to sneak in some surprisingly sensitive observations about Seth and Evan's friendship -- and the changes it's destined to undergo.

Throughout, Hill and Cera provide a contrasting, equally endearing focus -- Hill expansive and irrepressible, Cera quietly subversive -- that keeps "Superbad" in gear, even when the script grinds to a halt.

Strong as they are, however, they can't hope to compete with Mintz-Plasse, a real-life teen whose excruciatingly dweeby McLovin seems destined to surpass "Napoleon Dynamite's" title hero in the geek-for-the-ages cinematic sweepstakes.

If only "Superbad" were as memorable as its misfit heroes, we'd have a geek movie for the ages -- instead of one for the dog days of summer.

 

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