Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language and drug references
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Allison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Ben Lewis, Chris Evans, Mae Whitman, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Hader (voice)
Cameo: Clifton Collins Jr., Thomas Jane
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
The big screen adaptation of the cult-y Bryan Lee O'Malley comic book is, like its print counterpart, a mash-up of teen pop culture obsessions infused into a young romance storyline. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World works primarily due to its kinetic visual style and unique cross-hobby genre blending that is bound to be seen as an instant cult classic among the hipster comic/video game/punk rock/anime audience it aims squarely at. Perhaps it won't crossover outside of the geek-o-sphere to appeal to those who didn't grow up playing fighter games and listening to garage punk, but if you did, it is very subculture literate in its presentation in a way most major movie releases just aren't.
Set in Toronto, Michael Cera (Year One, Juno) plays the Scott Pilgrim of the title, a 22-year-old slacker by description who spends a good deal of his free time as a guitarist for his underground rock band, Sex Bob-omb, while also bragging to his band mates about the obsessive Chinese high school teenage girl he's been dating, rather chastely, named Knives Chau (Wong).
However, Scott can't settle in long after viewing the baggage-laden but more hip and mature American, Ramona Flowers (Winstead, Live Free or Die Hard), who, unlike the adulatory Knives, initially barely gives Scott the time of day. Ramona soon warms up to Scott, but winning her interest wasn't even half the battle, as he finds that, to date her, he's going to have to defeat the seven evil exes (Ramona's former significant others) in head-to-head combat. And, of course, there's the problem with Knives, to whom he can't seem to find the will to let her down with a break-up speech.
Not even mentioned is the fact that, in the odd little universe that Scott Pilgrim takes place in, every character can conjure up amazing superpowers and ultra-badass fighting skills whenever needed. When Scott fights an ex, the visual tone shifts from typical romantic comedy to a video game fight game akin to Street Fighter, Tekken, Dead or Alive, and the rest of the martial arts fighter genre of arcade and console games. This hyperactive style also allows for some very appealing over-the-top comic turns by such actors as Chris Evans (Push), Brandon Routh (Zack and Miri), and Jason Schwartzman (Marie Antoinette), all of whom, in their short screen time, steal their scenes with visual hyperbole combined with memorably funny dialogue. Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down) also should get some kudos as a funny, promiscuous gay roomie. And Michael Cera, while not exactly doing a 180 in on-screen personality, does manage to give his character a different spin off of his typecast nebbishly-sweet geek role by playing, alternately, a slacker, a lover, a loser, and a kick-ass action hero.
Like many recent films based on well-known cult comics, director and co-writer Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) attempts to translate, quite literally, the images from the comics to the screen, with phonetic musical demonstrations (songs written by alt-rock fave, Beck), visual name tags for character introductions, and bleeped (visually) foul language. This isn't a satisfying satire meant for all audiences, and probably will completely miss the target with those who didn't grow up consuming the entertainment fodder that drove the 1990s (if you have no idea why a vanquished foe would suddenly explode into a bouncing collection of coins, perhaps you're not prepared to ride this train). It also seems to run on a little long for the material, burdened by the story's commitment to seeing Scott battle seven evil exes, a couple more than once.
But why resist a recommendation for excess when that is so clearly one of the film's biggest appeals? It's a movie driven mostly by bloated, unabashed homage, and on that level, it's a breathlessly adept work that, while lacking in emotional content, remains a stylish, conceptual delight.
©2010 Vince Leo