Wouldn’t it be nice if you could address your boring daily conflicts with video-game-style rock-’em, sock-’em fights where sparks flew, knockout punches landed, eight-bit electronic music burbled, and nobody ever ended up in the hospital or in therapy?
Such is the conceit behind Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the movie adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six-comic series, directed by skilled British satirist Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). You don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy it. (I haven’t used a joystick since the days when eight-bit ditties were state of the art.) Scott Pilgrim is the 2010 answer to whacked-out teen comedies such as Sixteen Candles, Better Off Dead and the first Wayne’s World — movies that felt anarchic, dead-on hilarious and timely if you were 15 when they came out. It may not seem quite as special to adults, but its witty dialogue, whizbang pace and kooky performances make it one of the year’s funniest movies.
Michael Cera plays the title character, a would-be hipster in Toronto. He plays bass in an obscure band called Sex Bob-omb; lives in close quarters with a gay roommate (Kieran Culkin), who’s far studlier than he is; and dates a geeky high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) with whom his courtship consists mostly of playing arcade games.
Then Scott meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a jaded, bedraggled but apparently authentic hipster chick from New York, and falls in insta-love. Only problem: Ramona has seven evil ex-boyfriends — er, exes (one’s not a boy). And they like to fight.
What follows is a series of wantonly violent, unrepentantly silly duels in which spectral point values glitter and coins rain down every time Scott axes an ex, arcade style. Among his opponents are a skater boy turned preening action-movie star (Chris Evans), a psychic vegan super-bassist (Brandon Routh) and an unctuous, hipper-than-thou club owner (Jason Schwartzman). Given Scott’s nebbishness, it only seems comically appropriate that Evans and Routh are square-jawed bruisers who’ve played superheroes in other, more serious movies. Naturally, he outwits them.
In most of his roles, Cera comes off as Woody Allen without the ego, but there’s massive potential for passive aggression lurking under that sweet, chinless, man-boy exterior. Scott Pilgrim gives him a chance to show his edge. When we first meet Scott, he seems like a classic underdog, but there’s more to the story. If our hero is surrounded by glowering, critical females, from his bandmate Kim (Alison Pill) to record-store clerk Julie (Aubrey Plaza) to his sister (Anna Kendrick), that could be because he has a history of loving geek girls and leaving ’em. When his roommate begs him to make a clean break with naïve Knives, Scott whines, “It’s haaard.” Harder than taking on a League of Evil Exes, apparently.
Like most put-upon heroes of Brit and Canadian comedy, Scott is only semi-sympathetic, but his weaselly streak is good for laughs. When Ramona tells him he’s the nicest guy she’s ever dated, he responds, “That’s sad.” Indeed.
Scott Pilgrim is not a revelation, but it is a consistently entertaining parody of contemporary cultural foibles (would-be hipsterism, self-important veganism, faux sensitivity, speed texting, opportunistic bi-curiousness, vicarious kung-fu fighting) that are apparently too marginal to be satirized in comedies that actually make money. For all its laughs, this one’s a bomb. Until Michael Cera doing roundhouse kicks can earn as much on opening weekend as Adam Sandler peeing in a pool, perhaps Scott does deserve to be considered hip. Just a little.