Thursday, August 16, 2007

Booze, babes and nerds in "Superbad"

Summary: It's always amusing to watch gray-bearded critics lose their composure over a teen comedy. It's happening again with "Superbad," which was produced by Judd Apatow, who directed "Knocked Up" and "The 40-year-old Virgin" and who seems to have taken on the role of Hollywood's latest comic genius. "Superbad,"which was co-written by Apatow regular Seth Rogen, mixes two familiar qualities: teen angst and raunchy humor. That makes it a deeply satisfying entertainment for bright, slightly nerdy teens who are college bound.

As a bright, slightly nerdy adult who hardly remembers college, I found "Superbad" funny and gave it credit for discovering one character who stands above the rest, a super-nerd named Fogell, played by newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Fogell's fake ID propels the movie's piffle of a plot. In order to buy booze for a major party, Fogell creates a faux identity, boldly calling himself McLovin, a name that seems to blend the worst aspects of fast-food marketing and '70s cool. Mintz-Plasse is a hoot.

The story takes place during a single day. Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) are nerds who normally aren't invited to the best parties -- or maybe to any parties at all. But on this wondrous day, they're not only asked to attend a party, but also presented with the prospect of losing their virginity. As you probably know, losing one's virginity stands as the most hallowed feat in Hollywood's catalog of adolescent achievement .

En route to procuring alcohol and delivering it to the party -- the real reason they were invited -- Seth and Evan have what loosely might be termed "adventures," all built around two basic preoccupations: obtaining booze and lusting after babes. They become involved with a couple of goofball cops (Rogen and Bill Hader), wind up mingling with unsavory types at the wrong party and generally stumble their way toward the movie's conclusion.

Hill, who appeared in "Knocked Up," portrays the avid Seth, a young man with the simmering impatience of a kettle that's perpetually on the verge of boiling over. He's all steam and whistling hostility, perhaps bred by years of being the overweight kid who the cool kids shun. Cera, on the other hand, low-keys his way through a performance as Evan, taking full advantage of his Boy Scout's look.

In a way, the movie is one long bout of separation anxiety. Seth and Evan, who grew up together, face the daunting prospect of going their separate ways. Blame SAT scores. Cera's Evan has gotten into Dartmouth, as has Fogell. In fact, Evan and Fogell plan to room together, a prospect that Seth views as a particularly grievous form of betrayal. He's apparently going to college closer to home.

Some of the jokes -- notably Seth's childhood obsession with drawing penises -- italicize the film's ribald silliness while pointing toward the homoerotic qualities of teen male bonding, a topic that resurfaces in the movie's final act. After a night of uneasy debauchery, Seth and Evan confess their love for each other, while gingerly backing away from any sexual implications. They're buddies.

Rogen and partner Evan Goldberg -- the duo for whom the main characters are named -- reportedly wrote "Superbad" while they were still teen-agers. One imagines that they were the kind of kids who spent lots of time watching teen movies and pondering how they might outdo everyone by pushing the bad-taste envelope straight through the multiplex roof.

Director Greg Mottola, who also directed 1997's "Daytrippers," does his best with what looks to have been a decidedly low budget. The movie's a bit of an eyesore, not that its prime audience will care.

To enjoy a movie such as "Superbad," you must be able to tolerate humor that goes for gross and grosser. Here's the thing, though. In the end "Superbad" can't resist a bit of moralizing and you wonder whether for all their attempts at breaking out, Seth, Evan and Fogell aren't just three more Yuppies in training, the sort of kids who are destined to turn their teen anxieties into an equally distressed forms of adult striving. It's not hard to imagine Seth eventually morphing into a rabidly competitive MBA candidate.

But enough. Searching for deeper meaning in "Superbad" is about as productive as looking for erotic passages in a Jane Austen novel. Because of its unrestrained and even unrelenting vulgarity, "Superbad" never quite casts off the shackles of its own raunchy preoccupations. As a reuslt, the movie remains stuck in the teen ghetto, a limited if lucrative neighborhood.

Whatever else may be going on here, make no mistake: It's foul-mouthed humor that will turn "Superbad" into a hit. An impressive array of talking-point jokes (a gag involving menstrual blood, for example) will keep the target audience slapping its collective knee and screaming for more.

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