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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Fog/Mist
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All the wrong moves
Superbad has a way with the ladies
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Mintz-Plasse explores new frontiers of nerdiness.
Mintz-Plasse explores new frontiers of nerdiness.

Remember teenpics of 50 years ago, when even the cool guys were having trouble getting laid? Now it's just the nerds who have to pull every trick in the book - lying, cheating, stealing and, when those don't work, paying. You'd never know from today's movies that teenagers are (supposedly) having less sex than they used to. And I have to believe there's a sperm whale of a comedy to be made from their relative lack of interest, but Superbad isn't that comedy. It's the other kind - Revenge of Nerds for the Age of Internet Porn. These guys would do just about anything to hook up with a hot chick, but their years in the sexual wilderness have not prepared them for the challenges ahead. Before having actually made one, they're out of moves.

And it's starting to warp their personalities. As played by Jonah Hill, Seth is the fat kid with a mouth on him. He couldn't go five seconds without using the F-word if his grade point average depended on it, and his knowledge of the birds and bees, which he inflicts on anyone within shouting distance, is at once state-of-the-art (all that Internet porn) and strangely nave (no actual dates). Evan (Michael Cera), Seth's best friend, is a milder cup of tea, which is to say there's hope he might actually grow up someday. In the meantime, he looks more like a sixth-grader than a 12-grader, with his pajama-top T-shirts and his Cub Scout haircut. And he has this way of quietly disappearing in the presence of the opposite sex. It's like they're made of Kryptonite or something. They sap his strength, not that he had much strength to begin with.

Seth and Evan have been friends so long that neither of them remembers why they like to hang out together. And they're joined, in that Three Stooges kind of way, by Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a nerd's nerd whose role in life is to make them look less nerdy by comparison. These guys have the kind of rapport that high school buds take for granted but may spend the rest of their lives wishing they still had, and director Greg Mottola makes sure we pick up on the days-of-yore vibe. Like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, Superbad squeezes everything into a single memorable night, a mythic quest for pliant females and the alcohol with which to ply them. None expects success without the social lubricant, but as Seth points out, women under the influence tend to do things they regret the next day. "We can be that mistake!" he says.

They're certainly a mistake waiting to happen. And the movie might have devolved into a booty-call marathon were it not for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's script, which is so highly verbal you want to jot down the lines and use them later. ("No one's gotten laid in cargo pants since 'Nam, man.") Rogen, you may recall, was the "romantic" lead in Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's morning-after comedy about accepting adult responsibility. And he's written himself a part in Superbad as half of a pair of cops who make the horny teenagers look like pillars of the community. He and Bill Hader get their share of laughs, but it's the youngsters who leave you wishing both that you were 17 again and that you'd never had to be 17 in the first place. As the potty-mouth, Hill is like a young Vince Vaughn. As the nebbish, Cera is like a young Woody Allen.

And Mintz-Plasse? Culled from a thorough search of the nerd's tables in our nation's high school cafeterias, this cinematic newcomer is sui generis in the way that all true nerds are. (It's worth the price of admission just to hear him say "What up, dogs?") And the movie itself may break new ground in the way this much-maligned social class is depicted. Yes, they get picked on, even spat upon, but they're not without their dignity, even a sense of camaraderie. (The story's really about friendship.) For my money, Hill's Seth needed to be reined in a bit; he's like a walking case of Tourette's syndrome. And I wouldn't have minded seeing things a little more from the perspective of those for whom our swains would gladly lay down their lives if it meant copping a feel first. But for a cringe-inducing traipse down Memory Lane, this thing's hard to beat.

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