Judd Apatow kick-started his Hollywood career writing, directing and executive producing the underappreciated-in-its-time sitcom “Freaks & Geeks.” Nowadays, he’s Hollywood’s hottest comedy ace, having acted as the guiding force behind such theatrical hits as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. The surprise success of those two films has made Apatow the go-to guy for raunchy comedy. Despite the unapologeticaly R-rated antics of those films, Apatow is secretly a nice guy, slipping an unexpectedly sweet moral message underneath all the dirty jokes. Knocked Up was an ultimately good-natured romance about doing the right thing. The 40-Year-Old Virgin was a sex comedy that argued fairly convincingly for chastity.
Apatow’s name is attached to Superbad solely as a producer, but it bears the filmmaker’s unmistakable hallmarks: outrageous comedy, sincere moral message and a genuine love for its underdog heroes. This time around, Aptow turns the lion’s share of work over to director Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers) and scriptwriters Seth Rogan (Aptow’s old pal from back in the “Freaks & Geeks” days) & Evan Goldberg (executive producer on Knocked Up) who come damn close to aping Apatow’s success.
Superbad introduces us to Seth and Evan (how did the writers ever come up with those names?), two high school seniors on the verge of graduation. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Seth (Jonah Hill, Knocked Up) and Evan (Michael Cera from “Arrested Development”). They’re not stupid. They’re not hideously ugly. But God bless ’em, they’re just not cool. In any way. As a result, the unpopular pals have formed a lifelong, codependent relationship. With high school coming to an end, though, their friendship is being threatened. Evan is going off to college at Dartmouth. Seth, who didn’t make the cut, is already starting to feel the effects of separation anxiety.
Amid this unspoken emotional tension, the boys decide it’s time for one last blowout party. Or to put it more accurately, their first-ever blowout party. When a cute gal in their home ec class finds out the boys might have access to a fake I.D., they’re conscripted to purchase alcohol for an impending graduation party. Hoping that a large quantity of boozy beverages will lead to drunken girls and the slim possibility of getting laid, the boys pin all their hopes on their dorktacular friend Fogell (newbie Christopher Mintz-Plasse, surely the best movie nerd since Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles or at least The Sherminator in American Pie). Fogell is the one with the fake I.D., a cheap forgery that brands him a 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor with the unlikely name of “McLovin.”
Through a series of misadventures (about the only type of adventures this film offers), McLovin ends up in the company of two lunatic cops (co-writer Seth Rogan and “Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Hader) while Seth and Evan engage in a madcap, night-long quest to locate some form of booze.
Allegedly, writers Rogan and Goldberg first penned the script when they were just 14 years old. It shows—and that isn’t entirely meant as an insult. True, there isn’t much here in the way of storyline. Seth and Evan’s episodic search isn’t all that different from Jamie Foxx and Tommy Davidson’s quest to find a condom in Booty Call or Dude, Where’s my Car?, in which Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott try to ... well, that one’s pretty self explanatory. Still, the intentionally sophomoric, shock-jock humor will strike the funnybone of anyone who’s ever laughed at a good wiener joke. Frankly, it’s surprising the studio was able to cut together a TV commercial for this one. There’s hardly a second of dialogue that isn’t littered with foul-mouthed references to either male of female anatomy. This movie is rated R for “pervasive crude and sexual content” and f*&#ing proud of it! At its best—which is often—it’s like listening to a vintage Richard Pryor album.
Dig past the raunch, however, and there’s a smart film hiding underneath—one that understands just how much anxiety is involved in teenage life. The script never looks down on its characters, finding the positive and negative points in virtually everyone. Its take on friendship and the fine art of growing up is nicely observed. And, believe it or not, its approach to teenage sex and alcohol consumption is, ultimately, quite mature.
The cast of mostly unknowns is as good as you could hope. Hill and Cera are a pitch-perfect duo, generating much humor from their brotherly disagreements. Mintz-Plasse steals every scene he’s in as the dork who learns that a little confidence (and a great fake name) can get you pretty far in life. (Seriously, expect “I am McLovin” to be the catchphrase for at least the next couple months.) Rogan and Hader are a little too over the top to be completely believable, but do serve as decent examples of what an unwillingness to grow up can lead to.
It takes a certain skill level to mix raunchy, smart, hilarious and sweet in just the right doses. Superbad succeeds far more often than it fails, emerging as a foul-mouthed American Graffiti for the 21st century.