By Michael Clark
With its throwback title and soul music-filled, silhouetted opening credit sequence, you'd think "Superbad" was a send-up of '70s Blaxploitation films. It is not.
It doesn't even take place in the '70s, although the fashion sense of the two lead characters is stuck in a similar time warp. We don't get a hint that it's even set in the present day until the second act starts. That's about the worst thing that can be said about this brilliant, risque comedy.
The hefty Seth (Jonah Hill) and the slight Evan (Michael Cera) are best friends who operate just outside of the high-school cliques. Not complete nerds but far from hip, they want nothing more than to lose their virginity before they graduate. Of the two, Evan has the best shot, as he is relatively even-keeled, excruciatingly well-mannered and has already caught the eye of the comely Becca (Martha MacIsaac). Seth's only possible in is by procuring ill-gotten liquor for a blow-out party hosted by Jules (Emma Stone), a girl who doesn't seem to "like him that way."
The entire success of the evening rests squarely on the bony shoulders of Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a way too over-eager geek who has somehow managed to snare himself a fake ID. There is, however, an issue with the ID, which is referenced to several times throughout the film and never seems to get stale. Neither do Fogell, Seth, Evan, the girls, some inept cops and the rest of the assorted, skewed characters who pop up along the way.
Written by Seth Rogen (the lead in "Knocked Up," who in the film also plays one of the cops) and Evan Goldberg, "Superbad" could have easily turned into yet another tired retread of "Porky's." Instead, it's a welcomed reincarnation of "American Graffiti."
Like "Porky's," it's highly profane and obsessed with male sexual fantasy, rampant debauchery and out-of-control partying. It also has a huge heart, but not of the soft and mushy variety. As George Lucas so masterfully did in "American Graffiti," Rogen and Goldberg intertwine the ridiculously bawdy with the sublimely spiritual while never showing favor to either. It's not preachy, poetic or "heartfelt," but it is poignant and, in its own sneaky way, deep.
"Superbad" marks the feature debut of director Greg Mottola, a TV veteran who has helmed episodes of "Undeclared" (featuring Rogen), "The Comeback" and "Arrested Development" (which also starred Cera). Mottola was the perfect guy for the job, but he's likely going to unfairly lose some of the credit for the movie's cachet, simply because it was produced by Judd Apatow. No, the movie wasn't directed by Apatow, the mastermind behind "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," but it might as well have been. This is no faint praise for Apatow, and it's not a slight toward Mottola. He should be very proud of his work here.
But in just a few short years, and with just two films to his credit, Apatow has become the new undisputed King of Smart Comedy. Any Hollywood studio that doesn't immediately jump at the chance to secure Apatow's exclusive future services, no matter what the cost, will be missing the boat in a big, big way. So will you if you choose not to see this movie. (Sony/Columbia)