Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Alison Pill, Johnny Simmons, Jason Schwartzman, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 8/13/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 12, 2010

There are boss fights, finishing moves, one-ups (not in mushroom form but in the same spirit), and 8-bit-style sound effects and musical scores. There are onomatopoetic titles in congruence with actions ("Ring" goes the phone, "thud" goes a head against a post, "kapow" goes a kick to the face, etc.), split-screen stare-downs, and flashbacks apparently cut directly from the art of Bryan Lee O'Malley's original comics. A "live studio audience" laughs at the right times in one scene, a random bystander states, "The comic was better than the movie," in another, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one, big, knowing, meta wink throughout.

The movie tongues its cheek, raises its eyebrows, and nudges our elbow in every area except where it really counts. The story, an overt soap opera tale of young-but-old-enough-to-know-better love and narcissistic self-deprecation, uses its allegorical pop-culture hodgepodge for literal ends.

It's one thing to for our hero to fight his new girlfriend's evil ex-boyfriends ("Exes," she knowingly says) for a gag, but it is entirely another thing for the girlfriend to say she's not about to let her past ruin her future. Or for one of the exes to state they control her love life. The line is crossed; it's no longer a laugh but a sigh. The effect is of the movie laughing at itself then looking us squarely in the eyes, dropping its smile, and with all deadly dull sincerity asking, "Get it?"

The imagination is there. From the opening moments, with the studio logo devolved four-or-so console generations back, it's clear that O'Malley and screenwriters Michael Bacall and director Edgar Wright know and adore their influences. The movie's meat is in the style of making those influences a warped form of reality.

Hero Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, doing his sullen Charlie Brown act again) lives an uneventful life in Toronto. He has no job, plays bass in the band Sex Bob-Omb, lives with his "cool, gay" roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) (being a gossipy sexual predator is one among his stereotypical traits), and is dating a high-schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong).

He dreams (to music from The Legend of Zelda) of a girl and then meets her for the first time in reality at a party (Where the band hopes to talk with representatives from a label but will at least have something to complain about). She is Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an American delivery girl with hair dyed a different color every week. He asks her out, and after seeing her a few times, he learns that he must defeat the seven who dated her before him in battle. This is much less difficult a task for him than breaking it off with Knives.

The story is slow out of the gate, as we meet the people around Scott. There are his bandmates, who are sick and tired of Scott's relationship drama, especially drummer Kim (Alison Pill), whom he once dated. His sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick) is also fed up with his girl problems, as is just about everyone else he runs into over the course of establishing Scott's life.

The entrance of Ramona doesn't aid much, primarily because Scott is not—and never actually becomes—a particularly interesting character. He is, of course, only a vessel for stylistic excess, and on a dramatic front, he is defined solely by the women of his past and present life. A year later, he still pines over Envy (Brie Larson), a girl who dumped him when her band hit the big time, and he makes sure all the pain she caused him is transferred on to Ramona. On a figurative level, the exes are not for her benefit but for his. He needs to know who they are and why she dumped them, even if she doesn't want to tell him. At least Ramona later develops a backbone, becoming far more sympathetic than Scott. "You're just an evil ex in the making," she wisely tells him.

The movie's successes are in the beginning stages of the flourishes, when the exes eventually arrive to fight Scott. The duels defy gravity and all other laws of physics, while on-screen graphics inform us of character statistics, hit combos, and other details. Wright handles these with energy (and his verbal-to-visual and editing jokes are usually funny), although they become shallow as well.

The problem is that it is all tied into the bland melodrama of Scott's romantic life. The stakes of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are only as high as those established in a video game: The results mean nothing beyond racking up an arbitrary score, and any fatal error is corrected with an extra life.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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