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.