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This review was written for the theatrical release of “Superbad.”
Those who see Judd Apatow’s name on the credits of “Superbad” might expect another comedy along the lines of his smash hits, “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” This time, however, Apatow was the producer, not the writer or director, so expectations should be lowered.
His “Knocked Up” star, Seth Rogen, wrote the script with his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, when they were still young teenagers. Although the script undoubtedly was polished since then, it still has the juvenile, hermetic feel of early adolescent autobiography. The two main characters are even named Seth and Evan, and they are played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, respectively. The director, Greg Mottola, was responsible for a classy indie film of a decade ago, “The Daytrippers,” and he brings some skill to the enterprise, as do the actors.
It’s the script that brings the movie down. Guys who are the same age as the characters will whoop it up, but the film won’t reach beyond that young male demographic, as “Knocked Up” and “Virgin” managed to do. Because it obviously was made on a low budget, “Superbad” will make money for Sony, but don’t expect it to have much shelf life after the kids are back in school.
Like “American Graffiti” and “Dazed and Confused,” the film all takes place during a single day and night. But it doesn’t have the smarts or the depths of those ensemble comedies. Instead it centers on the simple notion of underage kids itching to get booze and have sex.
Seth and Evan, are nerds, but the joke is that they don’t realize they’re nerds — or at least they won’t admit it. The overweight Seth can’t even keep pace with a one-legged boy in gym class, and the brainier Evan is so shy that he’s almost invisible. Nevertheless, at Seth’s prodding, they try to worm their way in with the popular crowd, and they almost succeed when their even geekier pal, Fogell (newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse), manages to nab a fake ID that should enable them to buy liquor for the cool kids’ wild party. Needless to say, complications ensue.
Some of the patter is funny, but the movie lacks the clever plot developments and the character nuances of a classic like “American Graffiti.” And it’s missing the belly laughs of earlier raunchfests “American Pie” and “There’s Something About Mary.” The film never achieves a hilariously outrageous epiphany like the hair gel scene in “Mary” — a scene that can turn a teen comedy into a legend.
The friendship of Seth and Evan has homoerotic undertones, and there’s a funny scene where they declare their undying love for each other. But because this is an American movie, don’t expect the frankness of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” which took the close friendship of two horny teenage pals to its logical conclusion. In “Superbad,” the lovefest between the best friends is strictly platonic, which makes it nonthreatening to the crowds at the multiplex.
A parallel plot concerns the misadventures of Fogell, who gets picked up by a couple of cops (Rogen, Bill Hader) and spends the night in their squad car. The byplay with the cops grows tiresome, but Mintz-Plasse is a major find, and he steals the movie as he etches a definitive portrait of a blithely self-confident dweeb.
Martha MacIsaac and Emma Stone as the girls who captivate Evan and Seth are appealing, but the female roles are woefully underwritten. “Superbad” is stuck in a state of male arrested development, just like the characters. The movie’s low budget shows in rather primitive technical credits. The super-cheap “Superbad” will get laughs from undemanding kids, but it doesn’t come close to transcending its dimwitted genre.
Director: Greg Mottola
Screenwriters/executive producers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Producers: Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson
Director of photography: Russ Alsobrook
Production designer: Chris Spellman
Music: Lyle Workman
Co-producer: Dara Weintraub
Costume designer: Debra McGuire
Editor: William Kerr
Seth: Jonah Hill
Evan: Michael Cera
Fogell: Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Officer Michaels: Seth Rogen
Officer Slater: Bill Hader
Becca: Martha MacIsaac
Jules: Emma Stone
Francis: Joe Lo Truglio
Mark: Kevin Corrigan
Running time — 112 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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