Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

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With their warning about Lord Voldemort’s return scoffed at, Harry and Dumbledore are targeted by the Wizard authorities as an authoritarian bureaucrat slowly seizes power at Hogwarts.

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Release: 11 July 2007 (USA)

Language: English

Rating: 7.5/10

Runtime: 138min

Director: David Yates

Writers: Michael Goldenberg (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Mystery, 2007

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Gone are any traces of childish wonder and prepubescent discovery in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the series’s once buoyant disposition now obliterated by dread, powerlessness, and crushing responsibility. British TV director David Yates’s adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s fifth Potter adventure is doom and gloom and then some, pitting the teenage wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) against a fascistic government-appointed Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge), a Hogwarts student body warped by media slander into believing he is lying about Lord Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) return, and his own burgeoning fury at his Chosen One status. Pallid, morose grays encircle Harry like a noose, a lethal pallor in keeping with the film’s replacement of the franchise’s familiar juvenilia (Quidditch, pal Ron’s wisecracks) with an adult sensibility marked by enraged indignation. If only that anger received suitable resolution, Order of the Phoenix might have approached the superlative heights of Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban. Regrettably, though, Michael Goldenberg’s herky-jerky script isn’t up to the task, failing to overcome the material’s status as a way station on the road to Deathly Hallows, as well as excising just enough crucial information to make the climax resound with all the force of a percussive triangle chime.

Harry begins his latest venture in a righteously foul mood, spying signs of the impending apocalypse in playground rides (shades of Terminator 2) and underground tunnels illuminated by flickering lights (traces of Irréversible?), as well as in a pair of ghoulish Dementors whom he repels, an act which lands him in front of the Ministry of Justice for improper use of magic. There, paranoia reigns supreme (thanks to Voldemort duplicity), and while Harry finds himself exonerated and free to continue studies, Big Brother sends Big Sister Umbridge to Hogwarts to make sure no rabble is roused. Repressive decrees quickly become the norm, delivered with a smile and a high-pitched squeak by Staunton, who magnificently embodies Rowling’s villain as an autocratic and sadistic cat lady-grandma decked out in dainty hats and pink cashmere sweaters adorned with ostentatious broaches. She’s the film’s bilious nexus, repugnant for her disciplinary torture and her attempts to codify and institutionalize intolerance and inequality from a seemingly unassailable position of power. When she’s on screen, Yates’s saga is legitimately maddening, tapping into feelings of subjugation and persecution with a primacy so potent that it makes one long for even less of the tale’s peripheral enchantments, potions, and Weasley Brother candy concoctions.

Like Rowling’s novel, however, Umbridge is merely one component of this overstuffed Potter chapter, and although much of the surrounding detritus has been trimmed to moderate levels, the wealth of stuff going on in Order of the Phoenix nonetheless proves a wearisome burden. There’s Harry’s romance with nondescript Cho Chang (Katie Leung) and relationship with kindred outsider Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione’s (Emma Watson) dawning affections for each other and fractured rapport with Harry, Sirius Black’s (Gary Oldman) work with the titular Order to mount a resistance to Voldemort, and the covert defensive magic lessons Harry gives to students behind Umbridge’s back. The importance of these plot strands varies but their perfunctory treatment is by and large uniform, and they mainly serve to muddy the narrative waters with so many details that next to nothing seems vital. Multifaceted thematic concerns are a significant reason why the Potter series speaks to a diverse global audience, but the disjointedness of the film seems primarily the result of trying to serve two masters—Rowling’s text and the cinema—and eventually choosing to kowtow to the former at the expense of the latter.

Still, Yates partially atones for Mike Newell’s unexceptional Goblet of Fire, attacking Harry with a flurry of superb flash-frame nightmares in which Voldemort’s noseless visage coldly stares at him from a train platform and—more tellingly—from a mirror. As with its predecessors, the chief battle is within, and an impressive Radcliffe manages grown-up anxieties with endearing authenticity even as the story habitually turns its attention away from his emergence into adulthood and toward ho-hum CG giants, centaurs, and broom flights over the Thames. Radcliffe’s gaggle of illustrious British co-stars help bring a modicum of substantiality and class to even the most trivial moment. No cast member, however, can rectify the general stasis of Rowling’s book, in which only minimal progress is made in Harry’s maturation, nor overshadow the fact that by critically truncating a key subplot about an object hidden within the Ministry of Information (envisioned as a bureaucratic hellhole of dark hallways lined with towering shelves), the film fatally weakens its conclusion’s punch. And moreover, now that Harry has ditched childhood, it seems high time the franchise also dispatches with its immature and draggy literal-mindedness, here found in everything from the opening’s angry storm clouds to Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) enlightening pupil-adversary Harry about the big bad world with Disney Channel clichés like “Life’s not fair!”

by Nick Schager (10 July 2007)

Into the Wild (2007)

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After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

Title: Into The Wild

Release: 19 October 2007 (USA)

Language: English

Rating: 8.1/10

Runtime: 148min

Director: Sean Penn

Writers: Sean Penn (screenplay), Jon Krakauer (book)

Stars: Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Biography, 2007

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Romanticization takes precedence over analysis in Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s exasperating adaptation of John Krakauer’s nonfiction bestseller about Chris McCandless, a middle-class kid who graduated from Emory in 1990 and promptly went off the reservation, finally dying from starvation in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. Pieced together from journals, interviews, police reports, and anecdotes, Krakauer’s novel held McCandless in esteem but not with the rose-tinted glasses through which Penn views him, as the director casts his protagonist as a veritable Christ figure to be not only revered but envied. McCandless’s decision to reject his unhappily married parents’ Cadillac materialism—which involved burning his cash and IDs, donating his life savings to Oxfam, and hitchhiking to Alaska—was, in his own eyes, a rebellion against an empty society which he had to flee before, like flies on meat, it forever spoiled him. Penn buys this self-made conception of McCandless, envisioning him as a classical ‘60s nomadic free spirit: kindhearted, pure in intent, and hungry for all the wondrous, dangerous opportunities the world offers. In quick glimpses of the president justifying 1991’s Gulf War on television, Penn makes explicit his identification with McCandless, a man bold enough to wholly reject a Bushie society in favor of a more harmonious, pure state of being.

Dreamy as that notion might be, however, Into the Wild isn’t a completely convincing lionization. Penn utilizes a variety of multimedia means—handwriting across the screen, narration from McCandless’s travel logs and from his loyal sister Carine (Jena Malone), twilight panoramas of the vast countryside, flashbacks and (phony) home-movie footage—and yet McCandless remains something of a cipher, a man primarily glimpsed through his own written thoughts as well as the recollections of loved ones. These sources, alas, prove insufficient, since McCandless’s ruminations on “ultimate freedom” and wanting to “kill the false being within” are so self-aggrandizing that he comes off less a quixotic truth-seeker than someone wielding derivative ideals to mask a more obvious, immature adolescent revolt against his mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and father (William Hurt). Whether such a revolt is justified remains unanswered, since—despite a gracious shot of a forlorn Mr. McCandless grieving his lost son—Penn’s sketchy depiction of the boy’s parents never effectively confronts or complicates McCandless’s memories of his tumultuous home life. Far too heavily, Into the Wild simply buys what McCandless was selling, but even more than that, it augments what he was selling, while cursorily addressing (or outright sidestepping) any aspects of the tale that might be at odds with the young man’s carefully constructed, pseudonym-ed self-image as “Alexander Supertramp,” late 20th-century Jack London-by-way-of-Kerouac.

Attempting to craft a three-dimensional portrait from a pastiche of information, an impressive Hirsch, in focused method acting-mode (right down to his emaciated third-act torso), captures his character’s intense conviction and charismatic confidence. Yet throughout his episodic journey—in which he meets various surrogate family members, including a hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker), a 16-year-old singer-songwriter (Kirsten Stewart), and an elderly widower (Hal Holbrook)—McCandless’s talk of rejecting modern life and embracing solitary communion with the environment sounds so unoriginal and borderline-preachy that it’s tough to comprehend the seemingly profound effect he has on others. Better are the sequences in which McCandless is alone in the wilderness and, specifically, in the “magic bus” that eventually became both his home and his sarcophagus. In these moments, Penn conveys a powerful sense of wanderlust and yearning for spiritual affiliation with the natural world, with Eric Gautier’s probing, searching camera in harmony with its subject, and the image of McCandless hauling his kayak over a mountain subtly linking him to one of Werner Herzog’s legendary adventurers, Fitzcarraldo.

Mythologizing McCandless might be a somewhat questionable aim, but at least initially, Penn and editor Jay Cassidy’s graceful segueing between McCandless’s magic bus period and his preceding exploits (split up into chapters labeled by stages of life) lyrically expresses the internal and external forces compelling his fateful expedition onward. By its midway point, however, the director’s aesthetic expressionism becomes something of a nuisance, with poetic slow motion, sunset silhouettes, indulgent semi-improvisatory ramblings by McCandless, and Eddie Vedder tunes contributing to a feeling that Penn is trying too hard, and too insistently, to articulate the ineffable. At its finest, such as with McCandless’s unlikely conversation with an old man in the desert, or his chance encounter with a Danish couple (he hyper-garrulous, she topless) on the banks of a heavily policed river, the film catches a strong whiff of McCandless’s experiential openness, of his desire for something more than gold watches and a preordained set of suburban responsibilities. Into the Wild‘s escalating employment of mannered affectations, however, ultimately becomes a burdensome drag from which, like the itinerant path taken by McCandless himself, there’s no triumphant return.

by Nick Schager (7 September 2007)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

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Captain Barbossa, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann must sail off the edge of the map, navigate treachery and betrayal, find Jack Sparrow, and make their final alliances for one last decisive battle.

Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Release: 25 May 2007 (USA)

Language: English

Rating: 7.1/10

Runtime: 169min

Director: Gore Verbinski

Writers: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Stars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, 2007

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Given its origins as a theme park ride, it’s apt that Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy has experienced a trajectory not unlike that of a rollercoaster: an initial high, followed by repeated plummets to nauseating lows. At World’s End completes the story begun by last year’s Dead Man’s Chest, and features all the cacophonous action and paper-thin drama that helped sabotage its deflating predecessor. Aesthetically speaking, there’s virtually nothing differentiating these films, as both boast Gore Verbinski’s spatially incoherent battle scenes, Dolby-customized sonic bombast, and lavish special effects so lacking in fine detail that they’re deliberately shrouded in murky darkness. Yo Ho Ugh, it’s merely more of the same, and I do mean more; at a whopping 168 minutes, so much happens in At World’s End that it’s nigh impossible to keep up with all the various machinations and conflicting motivations crammed into Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s script. Such overkill, however, is simply a tool of distraction aimed at diverting attention away from the fact that the film’s existence is driven not by overarching narrative demands (there’s barely enough substantive material to warrant even a 90-minute runtime), but by an insatiable corporate bottom line.

Previously on Pirates: Smash, bang, boom, and other loud, meaningless hijinks led fey rascal Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to be imprisoned in Davy Jones’s locker, and insipid lovebirds Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) to team up with newly resurrected Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to help rescue Jack so he, in turn, could aid their quest to defeat squid-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his new master, East India Trading Company bigwig Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander). That mouthful of a synopsis pales in comparison to the one necessitated by At World’s End, whose myriad convoluted storylines involve most principal characters making promises to their mates, then engineering duplicitous back-room arrangements with their enemies (to further their own selfish ends), and then coming around and doing the right thing in the end because, well, it makes for a happier, safer, less morally complicated ending. Countless cross-purposes are simultaneously at work and yet, throughout, amount to naught, with the resultant plot muddle—made up of thinly sketched characters who are chiefly defined by their relationship to each other, and whose issues are dealt with in bite-size portions to make room for distended combat sequences—stinking like a pile of discarded corpses.

The film’s primary thread concerns the historic convening of the Brethren Court (made up of the nine pirate lords, two of whom are Sparrow and Barbossa), providing At World’s End with an opportunity to indulge in outlandish stereotypes (among them: the screaming Japanese pirate queen, the stuffy French pirate fop, and Chow Yun-Fat sporting a Fu Manchu as Singapore’s stilted English-spouting Captain Sao Feng). Crass, to be sure, but no less laughably objectionable than the script’s underlying clash between British capitalism (“It’s just good business,” is Cutler’s be-all excuse for treachery) and pirate “honor,” a concept Verbinski and company don’t even bother trying to explain. In essence, we’re meant to root for Jack and his plundering cohorts purely because they’re the funny and/or hot ones. It’s a strategy that might have been more tenable were it not for Bloom’s enervating blandness, Knightley’s counterfeit badass posturing and Braveheart-ish “Freedom!” speech (as well as her comical ability to keep her tanned face smudge-free), and the unavoidable sense that what was once unique and inspired about Depp’s Sparrow has, at this point, become calculated and dull, his prancing and lisping and flailing about emitting the odor of a stale routine.

Absent rhythm or even basic narrative uniformity, the film careens clumsily, occasionally hitting upon a quirky moment—such as Jack’s hallucinatory escapades in Davy Jones’s locker and in the Flying Dutchman’s brig—but mainly propping up its watery scenarios with recycled imagery (including three shots of boats bursting out of the ocean), pedestrian swordfights, and a dreary cameo from Keith Richards as the elder Sparrow. From beating aortas and heart-shaped lockets to enchanted compasses and cipher-laden maps, talismanic crap abounds, yet because the film’s mythology carries no weight, these trinkets’ supposed momentous value is nil; they’re just so much costume jewelry. Meanwhile, limp romantic dilemmas are reconciled during a climactic showdown in which two battleships chase each other around a whirlpool in some bizarre (and immensely tedious) version of Pirate NASCAR. Explaining to Davy Jones that his supernatural era is coming to a close, destined to be replaced by regimented European modernity, Cutler opines, “The immaterial has become the immaterial.” By the faux-bittersweet conclusion of At World’s End—a spectacle composed of intangible CG, superficial performances, and twists and turns that are vapidly resolved—it’s clear that the statement also pertains to this empty vessel of a Hollywood blockbuster franchise.

by Nick Schager (23 May 2007)

No Country For Old Men (2007)

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Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.

Title: No Country For Old Men
Release: 21 November 2007 (USA)
Language: English
Rating: 8.1/10
Runtime: 122min
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen (screenplay), Ethan Coen (screenplay)
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller, 2007

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Joel and Ethan Coen bring a touch of levity to their faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s relentlessly bleak 2003 novel No Country for Old Men, though it’s the type of nervous humor born from relieving immense tension. The Coens’ first film since their leaden remake of The Ladykillers is an exceptional return to their Blood Simple roots, offering up a crime saga in which money is almost as irresistible as bad choices are inevitable. Their cynical streak finds its perfect complement in McCarthy’s gloomy tale of bibilical-scale chaos in 1980 Texas, and yet the Coens nonetheless locate the black comedy hidden within the acclaimed author’s terse, punctuation-sparse prose. Brusque exchanges and austere violence are the story’s stock-in-trade, with both elements so downbeat and harsh that they occasionally veer close to absurdity, thereby providing the filmmaking siblings with opportunities to wryly alleviate the oppressive despair and viciousness that hovers over the proceedings in the same way that the enormous western landscape and its weighty silence hang over its human inhabitants. As Tommy Lee Jones’s sheriff Ed Tom Bell says in reference to a particularly grim anecdote, “I laugh sometimes. ‘Bout the only thing you can do.”

Hunting out on the expansive plains, Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a gruesome scene: vehicles abandoned, heavily armed men dead (aside from a solitary survivor begging for agua), a pickup truck flatbed full of heroin, and—a little ways off, next to another stiff—a suitcase full of $2 million in cash. Moss discovers this mess by following a trail of blood spied on the dry, cracked earth, a perceptiveness that immediately marks him as a man attuned to the land’s rugged ferociousness, and thus makes his subsequent decision to take the cash and run a consciously foolish one. Moss realizes hard men will soon come for what’s theirs but absconds with the money anyway. Overstepping his boundaries at great risk, he’s something of a noir protagonist, albeit minus the romanticism, since the Coens—diligently following McCarthy’s lead—depict his momentous choice as the unwise but natural act of someone bred in a lunatic world. Unlike Ed Tom, whose old-school values are ill equipped to confront the mayhem of the modern era, and very much like his pursuer, the psychopathic Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem)—who, later, will also ascertain knowledge from blood on the ground—Moss does what he does because he’s the product of a fundamentally out-of-whack environment.

This generational gap is intrinsic to No Country, which laments with confused, terrified resignation the dawn of a new, more insane age—or, as one cop puts it, “the dismal tide.” Ed Tom is the story’s nominal good-guy detective, attempting to figure out the who, what, where, when, and why of Moss’s disappearance and the carnage wrought by Chigurh, but he’s really just a street sweeper, left to clean up the mess left in these two younger men’s wakes. The Coens’ concise, efficient script proficiently captures McCarthy’s melancholic view of old-young disparities, whether it be Ed Tom’s utilization of horses to scour the desolate desert for clues, or his bafflement at the callous disregard for the dead (and propriety) shown by a guy transporting corpses to the morgue. Meanwhile, their economical, decidedly un-flashy direction (mimicking McCarthy’s writing, and aided by longtime collaborator Roger Deakins’s beautifully severe cinematography) repeatedly conveys narrative undercurrents in entrancingly subtle ways, such that the plethora of animal carcasses, instances of man-versus-beast violence, and Ed Tom’s yarn about a slaughterhouse mishap coalesce into a chilling portrait of anarchic interspecies warfare.

At the center of this maelstrom is the cattle stun gun-wielding Chigurh, a madman with a Prince Valiant bowl-cut and an expression both bemused and remorseless. His methodical comportment, like that exhibited by Moss when hiding his stolen loot in a motel room air duct, makes him seem innately in harmony with his surroundings. And yet the crazed glint in his eyes simultaneously casts him as an alien, an intruder recently arrived from Hades to tender unholy blessings (as during a lethal carjacking) and confession (to a gas station owner). Bardem plays Chigurh like the calmest lunatic known to heaven or hell, and he’s never more frightening than when uttering, in his bizarro bass voice, the faux term-of-endearment “friend-o” to prospective prey. Chigurh’s stillness is emblematic of the Coens’ use of surface tranquility to conceal latent brutality, as well as an external reflection of his fatalism. The villain’s habit of granting victims a chance at amnesty via a coin flip turns out to be the sole exception to his governing belief that he’s incapable of affecting ongoing events, all of which he implies are byproducts of everything that’s come before. It’s a pessimism shared by the film, which makes clear (spoiler alert!) the unavoidability and inconsequentiality of Llewelyn and wife Carla Jean’s (Kelly Macdonald) deaths—just two more drops of blood for the thirsty Texas earth—by keeping their murders off-screen.

“You’re not cut out for this,” a drug kingpin’s hired hand (Woody Harrelson) tells Llewelyn, and though that’s technically true, the increasingly bullet-riddled Llewelyn remains better suited for his situation than his elders, such as a senior citizen who picks him up on the side of the road and—revealing an amusing lack of perspective—tells him, “Hitchhiking is dangerous.” Thanks to its dour depiction of unreasonable, unstoppable evil, the film courts topical terrorism-related allegorical interpretations, even as it strives for Old Testament classicism. The Coens don’t shy away from McCarthy’s epically dark aspirations but their touch is a tad drier, affording their superb cast’s performances room to breathe, and allowing the action’s bursts of maliciousness to resound with greater impact. An even more forceful impression, however, is left by the mournful epilogue, in which Jones’s weary, admittedly “outmatched” sheriff resigns in defeat to a universe he no longer comprehends. His recurring attempts to understand the modern condition through the filter of old tall tales are ultimately, pitifully futile. Yet if this failure represents an admission that the past, despite having begat the here and now, holds no keys to understanding the present, it also demands the creation of contemporary fictions to help make sense of the new world madness. With the masterful No Country, the Coens and McCarthy give us one.

by Nick Schager (9 October 2007)

Superbad [Unrated] (2007)

Superbad Poster

Two co-dependent high school seniors are forced to deal with separation anxiety after their plan to stage a booze-soaked party goes awry.

Title: Superbad
Release: 17 August 2007 (USA)
Language: English
Rating: 7.6/10
Runtime: 114min
Director: Greg Mottola
Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Stars: Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Genre: Comedy, 2007

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If Superbad screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have followed Fiction Writing 101’s golden rule to “Write What You Know”—a likely scenario, given that their protagonists’ names are Seth and Evan—then what they clearly know most about is cocks. It’s safe to say that no film in the history of cinema has displayed as much interest in male genitalia as this latest project from The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up mastermind Judd Apatow (here serving as producer). To say it’s a mind-boggling infatuation would almost be putting it lightly, so thoroughly does it have boners on the brain. The story of two high-school seniors’ attempts to procure booze for a graduation party and, as a reward for their efforts, get laid, Superbad is nothing shy of a slightly overlong, R&B-grooving portrait of two phalluses primed to explode. The unadulterated fascination with, and obsession over, penises displayed throughout is extreme to the point that one would be hard pressed to fully and properly convey it. In fact, were I to even try to match the film’s level of cock-loving with this review, these initial references to male reproductive organs would be just the tip of the iceberg.

Rogen and Goldberg wrote their script while teenagers and it shows, as Superbad—significantly more than the Rogen-headlined Knocked Up—exhibits a precise understanding of young male anxieties, desires, and camaraderie, but absolutely no clue about the fairer sex. In essence a love story between Jonah Hill’s loud, über-horny Seth and Michael Cera’s quiet, awkward Evan, director Greg Mottola’s film seeks to mirror the now-patented Apatow formula: severe raunch complemented by aw-shucks sweetness. The former takes dominant precedence over the latter, though its casual, un-preachy depiction of all-consuming adolescent yearning for social/romantic/sexual acceptance nonetheless brings a measure of genuine sensitivity to the unending ejaculation of profanity. Seth’s deep, reciprocated feelings for best friend Evan are complicated by resentment over the fact that they won’t be going off to college together (thanks to Seth not getting into Dartmouth), a bitterness that’s repeatedly stroked for laughs but simultaneously taken seriously—or, at least, as seriously as such a lewd comedy can take any subject. The brash, outgoing Hill and weird, discomfited Cera are a perfectly mismatched, consistently hilarious odd couple, yet it’s their convincing affection for each other and shared desire for inclusion that helps prop up the countless nasty gags.

The desire to fit in isn’t only confined to under-21 outcasts, as a secondary plot follows Seth and Evan’s dorky third wheel Fogell (outstanding newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse, reinvigorating the archetypal nerd) as his effort to buy liquor leads to misadventures with a pair of stunted-adolescent cops (Rogen and SNL‘s Bill Hader). Fogell may want to appear older via his fake Hawaii ID—which, in the so-brilliant-it-never-quite-gets-old centerpiece joke, lists the kid’s name as simply “McLovin”—but the film’s ethos is truly encapsulated by the officers, who are preoccupied with Star Wars, drinking beer, and demonstrating through reckless behavior that cops can be cool too. As a result, the sappy finale, just like prior Apatow productions, feels somewhat phony. Having proven its conception of women as either whores who period-bleed on men’s legs or as nice girlfriend-types—and always as mysterious aliens—Superbad then casts Seth and Evan’s duel domestication as a triumph (albeit one tinged with separation-sadness), a turn of events that disingenuously betrays its guy’s-hanging-with-guys energy. Which is to say: growing up and acquiring a worldview outside one’s own pants may be vital for the immature duo, but I don’t want to hear it from a movie that concludes with a notebook drawing of a cock dressed like Mr. T.

by Nick Schager (13 August 2007)