One of Judd Apatow’s greatest strengths is his ability to
mix the subversive with the sweet, deftly striking a balance between raunchy,
gross-out humor and heartfelt emotion.
Apatow, best known for writing and directing comedies like The
40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, receives
only a co-producing credit for Superbad, but his shadow looms large: Though
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg began working on Superbad during their early teens,
the result, more than a
decade later, is a cheerfully vulgar but wistful farce that bears all the markings
of the Apatow pedigree.
That’s no surprise, given Rogen’s history as the star of Knocked
Up and co-writer of the Apatow-directed TV
series Undeclared. Here, he
stars, too, as an incompetent but (mostly) good-natured cop who seems more
intent on reliving the drunken glory of his misspent youth than enforcing the
law. As long as he and his partner (Bill Hader, of Saturday Night
Live) are on patrol, no police cruiser or
keg party is safe.
Joining him is a trio of teens celebrating their final days
as high-school seniors: Seth (Jonah Hill), a husky, excitable loudmouth
determined to lose his virginity; Evan (Michael Cera), a shy, mild-mannered
brain; and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a blithely oblivious nerd with a
fake ID bearing the single name “McLovin.”
Hill, in his first starring role after supporting turns in 40-Year-Old
Virgin and Knocked Up, is perhaps the film’s
biggest revelation. With his
portly frame, coarse sensibilities and spectacularly bad timing, he makes Seth
the quintessential outcast, entirely co-dependent on his few friends but
convinced that he can still work his way into the cool crowd – or, at the very
least, some lucky girl’s pants. He delivers every line with manic, wild-eyed
conviction, striking the right tone of desperation as a kid with a
single-minded desire to drown himself in sex and booze, though not necessarily
in that order.
If Hill is responsible for ensuring the film’s R rating with
monologues so profane and anatomically specific they would’ve made Steve
Carell’s 40-year-old virgin blush, Cera is the film’s heart. Like George
Michael, the awkward, unassuming teen he played on Arrested Development, Evan is essentially
an innocent, lacking the
predatory instinct to make good on his quest to get laid. Even when that quest
seems primed to pay off after a night of extreme debauchery, his nobler
instincts take over.
It is McLovin, though, who enjoys the fullest evening after
getting picked up by Rogen’s rogue cops and escorted around town in pursuit of
cheap thrills. Together, they get smashed, gang-tackle a vagrant, shoot up a
police car and destroy the evidence. It’s all fairly tame, really, foolish
slapstick that recalls the buffoonery of Home Alone more than the inspired silliness
of, say, Knocked
Up, but Superbad is more amusing for its
playfully obscene dialogue
than its broad physical comedy.
And yet, even in that department, it sometimes misses its
mark. It’s raunchy enough, but it lacks some of the subtle wit and verbal
sophistication that has always distinguished Apatow’s finest comedies. It is a
tale familiar to anyone weaned on teen sex fantasies like Fast Times at
Ridgemont High and American Pie, and to
those of a certain age, it may become just such
a cult classic. To others, Superbad
will seem a pleasant, if slight, diversion.