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August 15-21, 2007

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Photograph by Melissa Moseley
Antiheroes: Christopher Mintz-Plasse (left), Jonah Hill (center) and Michael Cera prepare for a party to remember in 'Superbad.'

Virgin Springers

Three horny high schoolers get put through the wringer in 'Superbad'

By Richard von Busack

THE HIT Knocked Up was very funny, and that was the secret of its success and why people went back. But it wasn't the kind of funny that stood up to analysis; the film was like watching a good TV show, and the effects faded almost instantly—another reason why people went back for seconds. Greg Mottola's Superbad is co-produced by Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed Knocked Up, and co-written by and co-starring Knocked Up's star, Seth Rogen, in a supporting role. The lead character is called "Seth" (Jonah Hill). With his frizzed hair, crappy automobile and serious belly, he could be a younger version of Rogen's Ben.

Seth is a coarse young high-schooler, a person who can bring every conversation around to the subject of his dick. And Seth wants to lose his virginity before they all leave for college. He believes that the only way you can get women to have sex is to get them drunk, but he's below the legal drinking age. Michael Cera, as his nice-guy best friend Evan, is forced into the plan to try to get liquor for the party. Their tag-along pal Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who debuts and completely steals the picture) has a misguided idea of his own coolness. Fogell (usually called "Fagell" by Seth) creates a fake ID to get the alcohol. On the way to a party, the three endure ordeals upon ordeals: Seth gets hit by cars, and the gang is stalked by two beer-swilling cops (Rogen and Bill Hader, late of Hot Rod) after they've being sidetracked to a heavier, uglier party where violence simmers.

Like Knocked Up, Superbad delivers lots of laughs. And like Knocked Up, the visual qualities are as flat as pre-cable TV. As a comedy about the hermetically sealed lives of teenagers, it hits the spot; it couldn't have been more adolescent if there was a genuine adolescent behind the camera. When I say hermetic, I mean that nothing elicited a bigger laugh from the preview audiences than the characters doing Star Wars imitations. If there's a genius in Apatow, it's reflected in the way he spins the usual group-hug scene. Late in the film, Seth and Evan realize where the real and helpless love lies in their lives. And even if it isn't sexual, that love is terribly threatening to teen males whose every other word is "fag" or "gay."

Except for Martha MacIsaac's very amusing drunken strip tease, there isn't any place in this world of Apatow, Rogen and company for funny women. It's as if no one here can think of what women might think or do; they stay unpredictable, unknowable. Though the Yoda-speak earns guffaws, maybe an equally big laugh comes when Seth has his pants stained with menstrual blood at a party, and the partiers treat the stain with as much horror as a quorum of Orthodox Jews would. Mottola and Apatow aren't laughing at the guests, they're laughing with them. The retro side of this 1970s tribute teen comedy is deliberate, with its star-wipes and Urban Outfitter-style graphics in the title sequence. But its attitudes are a lot more retro than it looks, even.

Movie Times Superbad (R; 114 min.), directed by Greg Mottola, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, photographed by Russ T. Alsobrook and starring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, opens Aug. 17 valleywide.

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