After The 40-Year- Old Virgin and the middle-youth focus of Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s laughter squad regress to teen-hood in Superbad. ‘Regress’ being the operative word: this is crass, juvenile, dick-fixated stuff... in a really good way. It’s also, arguably, the mainstream’s freshest poke at the adolescent smut-com since American Pie. Mind you, its time-honoured tale of high-school losers busting their balls to get laid hardly shatters the Pie-mould. Moreover, a lot of the situations and characters feel drawn from stock, from underage booze-buying bids to Martha MacIssac’s nice girl-cum-nympho Becca (a dead ringer for AP’s flute-frigging Michelle).
A ‘C’ for originality, then, but an ‘A-’ for execution. Scripters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – who tellingly lend their forenames to the protagonists – dreamt up the premise during their own horndog puberty. The ample time they’ve had to prune, polish and embellish has resulted in a rapid-fire gag machine that rarely jams. Superbad is a relentless rib-assault that sure-footedly blends gross-outs, flashbacks, fantasy asides (elevating the aforementioned hooch-hustling above bog-standard) and a full quiver of zingers (“No one’s got a hand-job wearing cargo pants since ‘Nam!”).
Meanwhile, director Greg Mottola (finally back in big-screen business 11 years after his excellent debut The Daytrippers) and editor William Kerr keep the pacing and weighting even as the single-night narrative splits in two. The first strand follows best pals Seth ( Jonah Hill, a veteran of producer Apatow’s helming gigs) and Evan (Arrested Development’s Michael Cera) as they take the long way round to the end-of-year party; while the other tracks their accomplice Fogell’s (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) semi-surreal misadventures with a pair of criminally irresponsible cops (Rogen himself and Saturday Night Live regular Bill Hader). The lived-in, quarrelsome chemistry between Hill’s fat-mouthed opportunist and Cera’s fluttery wallflower is the soul of Superbad – although it’s almost upstaged by newcomer Mintz-Plasse’s ultra-nerdy, delusional charm (“I am McLovin!” he crows, brandishing a ludicrous fake ID).
And that’s rather apt, because as it turns out Fogell is part of a wedge threatening to drive Seth and Evan apart as their separate life-paths loom. Yes, there is some substance here – and just as well since, at a little shy of two hours, boner-joke fatigue does eventually set in (although the penile dementia doesn’t stop when the credits start to roll). The story wraps with a morning-after epilogue, but its true climax is a sweet, unguarded (ie drunken) man-to-man moment that could leave even the most macho male mates in the audience contemplating a hug. Mottola revels in ritually humiliating his leads (Seth has the worst of it in a taboo-rattling lady-stain episode). But in the end he cuts through the mocking irony of the supercool title and retro-funk soundtrack, offering an affectionate male love story. Roll back the skin, in other words, and you’ll find something warm and tender beneath.
The funniest film since, um, Knocked Up. What it lacks in novelty it makes up for with consistency. Supergood.