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Given the success of Wedding Crashers, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, it's starting to feel official: We've given ourselves social sanction, as thinking adults, to giggle at the fact that someone just said "balls."
Especially when the onscreen smut somehow comes off as, well, smart.
Still, there's a thin line between smart juvenilia and plain silliness and Superbad weaves back and forth across it like Lindsay Lohan at a traffic stop. Produced by Judd Apatow (director of Virgin and Knocked Up), it marks the first script by Seth Rogen (Apatow's Knocked Up star) and Evan Goldberg (Rogen's childhood friend from Vancouver).
It's not hard to see a bit of autobiography, or at least wish-fulfillment, in the story of high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development's Michael Cera). Soon to be attending separate colleges, the two best friends are looking for one last hurrah by supplying alcohol to an end-of-year party hosted by one of their school's cool girls (Emma Stone). As they see it, liquor to be obtained by their geeky pal Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and his brand-new fake ID is just the lubricant they need to speed their trip down the road to lost virginity.
Thus begins an odyssey that plays like a cross-breeding of all-night travelogue (think Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle), end-of-school reminiscence (think Dazed & Confused, Can't Hardly Wait) and cherry-popping quest (think American Pie). True to its roots, Superbad cranks the raunchiness level about as high as it can go in a movie with no actual nudity.
Many of the finest moments come from Seth's septic tank of a mouth. At times, he's breathtakingly hilarious. At other times like some of the rest of Superbad he's just a bit too much. One of Seth's finest tirades comes during a home economics class, in which he swears at and insults his teacher only to be rewarded with a chance to have a hot babe as his project partner.
Superbad loses its way when, in its quest for any potentially shocking gag, it steps into a realm where the characters' behavior isn't even remotely plausible. Sure, you can introduce a pair of dim-witted cops (Rogen and Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader) who like brandishing their guns and getting drunk on the job, but you can't expect the humor to pack the same wallop as material based on the awkward exploration of something fundamentally real.
Not that Superbad doesn't also deliver awkwardness in spades. Cera, one of the most instantly endearing young actors since John Cusack, gets some terrific moments in his flailing attempts to hook up with his dream girl (Martha MacIsaac). And Mintz-Plasse is stuck for large chunks of the movie in the subplot featuring the two cops. Don't be surprised if, even as you're cringing, you're also laughing a whole lot.
Then again, you might be laughing a bit less than you'd prefer, especially if you're expecting something as uproarious as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up.
Even those of us who groove to four-letter humor can have standards. There's nothing wrong with laughing at gags pitched below the beltline, but there's also nothing wrong with recognizing that not all dick jokes are created equal. firstname.lastname@example.org