It seems everything Judd Apatow is touching these days turns into gold. From directing "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up" to producing "Anchorman," "Talladega Nights" and now "Superbad," Apatow has become one of Hollywood's hottest commodities. Yet despite what the advertisements might say, attributing the success of "Superbad" solely to him would be doing the movie a major disservice.
The plot is simple enough—best friends Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) are on a quest for alcohol so they can score with their high school crushes at a party. They are joined by the seemingly anti-cool Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the only one of them who has a fake ID, and it isn't long before two blundering cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader) are thrown into the mix. However, as you can guess, nothing really goes according to plan.
The movie's true strength lies in its casting, with all the leads playing their parts to a T. Cera's straight and ungainly portrayal of Evan plays well off Hill's over-the-top and vociferous Seth, yet it's the supporting characters that oftentimes end up overshadowing them. Newcomer Mintz-Plasse steals the spotlight as Fogell (or the now infamous McLovin); his character is so outlandish it's hard to do anything but laugh. Rogen and Hader, who play two of the worst cops ever known to man, are equally entertaining to watch, and the scenes between the three are some of the film's strongest.
The writing is also above par for your average teen comedy. The script, by real life childhood friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is tightly written and consistently funny. Even the third act, typically the time in which a comedy switches gears for a more serious mode, manages to keep the laughs coming. They also interweave several pop culture references throughout (a staple of Apatow's films), and do a pretty good job at capturing the awkwardness high school can produce.
For all it does right, Superbad is not without its fair share of problems, the most glaring being a shallow emotional core. While a minimal plot and thin characterization isn't a bad thing per se, it can hinder a film from being a genuinely great one. Once you get past the laughs the writers constantly throw towards the screen, it's not hard to realize there's not much below the surface. One of the strengths of Apatow's directorial efforts is the depth and feeling he injects into the story, which is missing to a certain degree here. I don't know if it's the fault of first time director Greg Mottola, but we never acquire a reason to really care for Evan's and Seth's plights, other than wondering what crazy thing will happen next.
The film is also setback by a few moments which take the story out of the sense of reality it seems to be striving for. For example, the part involving Seth's childhood drawings is so curiously contrived, not to mention overplayed, that it feels more gratuitous than funny. Some of the dialogue balances this same boundary, at times working to hilarious heights and other moments teetering over the edge. It's this kind of duality which I found to be a bit tedious and annoying, and one which I could have done without.
So the real question remains: does Superbad live up to the hype? The answer is both yes and no. Without a doubt it is one of the funniest movies of the last few years, and one in which repeat viewings are likely needed just to be able to take in the plethora of jokes. Unfortunately, it never is able to transcend to anything much more than that. For some that will be just fine, for others it won't, but in a time when Hollywood calls "Norbit" and "Wild Hogs" hit comedies, it's refreshing to have something actually accomplish the comedy aspect.