Superbad (7/10)

Judd Apatow has (rightfully so) been credited with the re-invigoration of the R-rated comedy, the age-old ribald affair with the f-word flying everywhere, numerous sex jokes, and, if we’re lucky, nudity. What he’s better known, for, though, are his TV shows Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared and his feature films Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, comedies that have a touch of quirkiness to them but also a very real heart that actually makes them good comedy and not just mindless sex romps, like American Pie. All of his work has been critically celebrated and acclaimed, and Superbad is no exception, though I’m sorry to report that it is a clear step backward from his previous stuff, although, admittedly, it was only produced by him, not directed. Superbad is one big long hilarious sex joke from beginning to end, but once all the thin layers are stripped away, there’s not much left to distinguish it from other films of its ilk.

Jonah Hill is Seth and Michael Cena is Evan, two high school seniors who are on their last week of school and want to go out with a bang. So they enlist the aid of a friend who would make the nerdiest of nerds look like Brad Pitt – Fogell, played squeakily excellently by newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse (what career move he’s gonna do after this is anybody’s guess). He has just purchased a fake ID, and the plan of the three is to use it to buy alcohol for a party so they can get girls drunk and sleep with them. Fogell goes to the liquor store and is knocked out by a thief (whom we never see again), causing the clerk to call the police in to look for the robber. Can you say, “contrived plot point?” Superbad is being hailed by critics as an authentically and brutally honest tale of high school and the sealed-by-sex-obsession friendship that these three boys share. And, in a sense, that’s true. The chemistry of the cast is completely believable and it by itself could have made a great movie. Johan Hill is lovably sex crazed while Michael Cena plays the nice guy. But in another sense, Superbad is a completely false film that exists merely to carry these three’s friendship.

Aside from the three main characters, everyone else is a tired stereotype, from the stupid cops of Seth Rogen and Bill Hader (played with enough pizzazz to overshadow their cliché-ness), to the naïve liquor store counter girl who accepts a clearly highly suspicious fake ID, to the girls merely existing so that the main characters can (or cannot) have sex with them. True, most of these are laugh-out-loud hilarious, but for me that didn’t overshadow how uncreative they were. In conjunction with this qualm of mine, I also didn’t appreciate how everybody except the three main characters seemed to have lost their brains on the way to their parts. The two cops are so unbelievably stupid that if it weren’t for the actors playing them, it would be a horribly unfunny bit. The girls that Seth, Evan, and Fogell want to bang all spout off predictable lines and are carbon copies of each other, whose actions, in the end, really don’t make sense with what came before. Only one of them truly carries any life, and that’s only for the purpose of giving good boy Evan some kind of moral crisis. Films like “Virgin” and “Knocked Up” succeeded because all the characters were three-dimensional real people, not stereotypes. Neither Jonah Hill nor Michael Cena carry enough charisma and clout to make us believe these are actually real people. Jonah Hill plays the exact same part he played in Knocked Up, only without the drugs. On top of all this, the movie is false in its claims to authentically portray the boy high school experience because of how, suspiciously, the entire high school is populated by 25-year old drop dead gorgeous women. Not once does any girl who is not attractive come on screen, effectively popping the balloon of “realism” this film claims to have. Sure, Jonah Hill isn’t particularly attractive, but so what? I would have cheered if the film had ended with both of them pairing up with women that weren’t so obviously attractive. That’s why I enjoyed Hairspray so much – Link Larkin, a sexy heartthrob, in the end, goes out with Tracy, a clearly overweight girl – breaking down stereotypes and embracing somebody because of love, not looks. Admittedly, this is a movie about high school, and as such, we shouldn’t expect the characters to make brilliant relationship decisions, but come on. Why do movies have to be filled with Rachel McAdams look-a-likes? If you claim to be portraying a real high school experience, then give us that, not some busty beauty candy-coated one. Much has also been said about the F-word being dropped at least three times a minute – but so what? What movie doesn’t have the F-word these days? This doesn’t make it good. It’s not like it was some kind of huge risk for them to use it. This isn’t the 70’s people, it’s the 21st century, and when the F-word is used a lot it’s not some reason to be impressed by bravura filmmaking.

Finally, my biggest beef with the movie is its faux brotherhood undertones. Yes, Hill and Cena do share wonderful chemistry, but the “conflict” between them (each of them are going to separate colleges at the end of the year) is barely mentioned three or four times, and it seems merely added for the purposes of giving the film an Apatowsian flair. It’s competently done, of course. If I hadn’t been analyzing the movie, I may have never even noticed it, but regardless, it’s nowhere near as developed as the emotional heart of Apatow’s previous two theatrical outings, where the drama was sewn into the whole in such a way that if you removed it, the entire thing would fall apart. In Superbad, though, it seems more of an extra doohickey than something that was needed. It’s definitely there, and with more attention, it could have flowered into something beautiful, but as it is,it lies dead in the water.

Despite all my criticisms, I’m giving this movie a good recommendation simply because of how hilarious it is. Both Hill and Cena hit each comedic note perfectly, and Hader and Rogen as the cliché cops add just the right amount of ridiculousness to make their inclusion forgivable. Sure, they’re over the top, but in a movie called “Superbad,” what do you expect? The most hilarious aspect of the movie comes in the running joke that Fogell changed his name to McLovin when he bought a fake ID. This joke runs throughout, but through intelligent script-writing it never loses steam and always draws a hearty belly laugh. The McLovin’ joke alone is worth the entire price of admission, and in a movie with literally a laugh-a-minute, that’s saying something. Some moments in the movie also (probably purposefully) recall classics like American Pie, which really helps the movie’s appeal, because it throws into contrast how lacking American Pie’s comedy is in relation to Superbad’s. The writing is simply much more talented and does a heck of a lot more with the material. I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the entire thing, and though at the end of the day it lacked a certain heart and soul that prevents me from giving it an extremely high rating, it does bring the laughs.

Perhaps I’m being a little too unfair on Superbad. After all, the director is some guy named Greg Mottola who must be feeling like the luckiest guy in the world right now, with the reigning king of R-rated comedy producing his flick. Why should I place the burden of Apatow’s success upon this filmmaker’s shoulders? The reason is that Superbad was billed as “from the guys who brought you Talladega Nights and The 40-Year Old Virgin.” With a title like that, it’s obviously wanting very badly to be the next Knocked Up. But if Apatow wasn’t attached to the project, you can bet it wouldn’t be half as successful, and probably even lower in the critical ratings, too. It was a clever advertising campaign, to be sure, but it only causes me to be suspicious if Superbad actually has any inherent value. For now, I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt – it’s not as good as the other two hilarious comedies of the summer, Knocked Up and The Simpsons Movie, but it is a great fun-filled teen sex comedy romp that is still above average.

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