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SAN DIEGO — Chore No. 1 is accomplished: The fanboys and girls gave a resounding shriek of approval to Universal’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” at Comic-Con following its “surprise” screening here at the comic book-driven event that has become a kind of Halloween for adults. But the question remains: Will anybody else care?
Director/producer/co-writer Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) has successfully reproduced the imagery and worldview of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel, itself a mash-up of ordinary characters lost in a world of manga, video games, music videos and comic book iconography. It’s fair to say that a significant number of moviegoers would count that as no achievement at all, but none of them is likely to see a movie called “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”
So Universal should have a youth hit in the domestic market when the film opens next month. A wider audience among older or international viewers seems unlikely.
Scott Pilgrim — O’Malley flatters himself by borrowing the last name of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” hero — is played by Michael Cera, Hollywood’s go-to guy for dewy-eyed male innocence that somehow isn’t cloying. Scott is a geeky kid in Toronto — check that, he’s a geeky twentysomething playing bass guitar in a talent-free garage band who should be getting on with his life instead of playing guitar and dating a high school girl.
Everyone from his younger, scandalized sister (Anna Kendrick) and weirdly gay roommate (Kieran Culkin) — weird not because he is gay but because Scott chooses to sleep in the same bed with him and “nothing” is going on — to fellow band members (Mark Webber and Alison Pill) wonders about that 17-year-old, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), in his life.
Perhaps it has something to do with the devastation caused a year earlier when his ex (Brie Larson) broke his heart and, worse yet, became a rock star.
None of this matters when Scott’s eyes seize on Romana Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysteriously dangerous woman with constantly changing hair colors, who totally “vamps” him. He is so obsessed with her — and she seems to return the favor albeit with some reluctance — that he is willing to battle to the death her “seven evil exes” to win her heart.
Why must he battle former loves extending back to seventh grade? Who knows? Certainly no intelligible explanation is forthcoming. It’s a touchstone of the current multitudes of young comic book and graphic-novel readers and, by extension, moviegoers, that such explanations don’t matter. That’s just the way it is.
So the rest of the movie is taken up with heroic duels with ex-boyfriends — no, check that, also one ex-girlfriend from when Ramona was “going through a phase” — where the fights revolve around battles with fists, poorly staged martial arts, bellowing musical instruments, flashing knives and, yes, half-and-half. The latter, you understand, defeats a vegan ex-boyfriend (Brandon Routh).
The movie does everything its makers can dream up to imitate a manga: Screens split in half and then in half again. Action speeds up or slows down. Comic book word sounds — “whoosh,” “r-i-i-i-i-n-g,” “thud” and the like — pepper the screen. Backstories about exes are told in rudimentary sketches. The movie frame becomes a graffiti zone where the filmmakers can insert all sorts of written commentary including the fact that a character has to pee. How edifying is that?
What’s disappointing is that this is all so juvenile. Nothing makes any real sense. The “duels” change their rules on a whim, and no one takes the games very seriously, including the exes, who, when defeated, explode into coins the winner may collect.
Certainly Cera doesn’t give a performance that anchors the nonsense. His character sort of drifts, not really attached to any idea or goal other than winning the heart of an apparently heartless woman while dissing a girlfriend who, despite her “youth,” seems ideally suited to his slacker personality.
This is a discouragingly limp movie in which nothing is at stake. A character can “die,” then simply rewind video and come back to life. Or change his mind about his true love and then change it again. Scott Pilgrim’s battle isn’t against the world; it’s against an erratic moral compass.
Opens: August 13 (Universal Pictures)
Production companies: A Marc Platt/Big Talk Films/Closed on Mondays production
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brei Larson, Alison Pill, Audrey Plaza, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman.
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenwriters: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
Based on the graphic novel by: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Producers: Marc Platt, Eric Gitter, Nira Park, Edgar Wright
Executive producers: Ronaldo Vasconcellos, J. Miles Dale, Jared LeBoff, Adam Siegel
Director of photography: Bill Pope
Production designer: Marcus Rowland
Music: Nigel Godrich
Costume designer: Laura Jean Shannon
Editors: Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Rated PG-13, 112 minutes
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