Review: ‘Superbad’ mildly amusing

One of Judd Apatow’s greatest strengths is his ability to mix the subversive with the sweet, deftly striking a balance between raunchy, gross-out humor and heartfelt emotion.

Apatow, best known for writing and directing comedies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” receives only a co-producing credit for “Superbad,” but his shadow looms large: Though screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg began working on “Superbad” during their early teens, the result, more than a decade later, is a cheerfully vulgar but wistful farce that bears all the markings of the Apatow pedigree.

That’s no surprise, given Rogen’s history as the star of “Knocked Up” and co-writer of the Apatow-directed TV series “Undeclared.” Here, he stars, too, as an incompetent but (mostly) good-natured cop who seems more intent on reliving the drunken glory of his misspent youth than enforcing the law. As long as he and his partner (Bill Hader, of “Saturday Night Live”) are on patrol, no police cruiser or keg party is safe.

Joining him is a trio of teens celebrating their final days as high-school seniors: Seth (Jonah Hill), a husky, excitable loudmouth determined to lose his virginity; Evan (Michael Cera), a shy, mild-mannered brain; and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a blithely oblivious nerd with a fake ID bearing the single name “McLovin.”

Hill, in his first starring role after supporting turns in “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” is perhaps the film’s biggest revelation. With his portly frame, coarse sensibilities and spectacularly bad timing, he makes Seth the quintessential outcast, entirely co-dependent on his few friends but convinced that he can still work his way into the cool crowd — or, at the very least, some lucky girl’s pants. He delivers every line with manic, wild-eyed conviction, striking the right tone of desperation as a kid with a single-minded desire to drown himself in sex and booze, though not necessarily in that order.

If Hill is responsible for ensuring the film’s R rating with monologues so profane and anatomically specific they would’ve made Steve Carell’s 40-year-old virgin blush, Cera is the film’s heart. Like George Michael, the awkward, unassuming teen he played on “Arrested Development,” Evan is essentially an innocent, lacking the predatory instinct to make good on his quest to get laid. Even when that quest seems primed to pay off after a night of extreme debauchery, his nobler instincts take over.

It is McLovin, though, who enjoys the fullest evening after getting picked up by Rogen’s rogue cops and escorted around town in pursuit of cheap thrills. Together, they get smashed, gang-tackle a vagrant, shoot up a police car and destroy the evidence. It’s all fairly tame, really, foolish slapstick that recalls the buffoonery of “Home Alone” more than the inspired silliness of, say, “Knocked Up,” but “Superbad” is more amusing for its playfully obscene dialogue than its broad physical comedy.

And yet, even in that department, it sometimes misses its mark. It’s raunchy enough, but it lacks some of the subtle wit and verbal sophistication that has always distinguished Apatow’s finest comedies. It is a tale familiar to anyone weaned on teen sex fantasieslike “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “American Pie,” and to those of a certain age, it may become just such a cult classic. To others, “Superbad” will seem a pleasant, if slight, diversion.

Superbad **½

Starring Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader

Written by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Directed by Greg Mottola

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Chase Center and the Golden State Warriors hosted a media Welcome Back conference to discuss the safety protocols and amenities when fans return for a basketball game on April 23rd at Chase Center on April 13, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Golden State Warriors ready to welcome fans back to Chase Center

COVID-19 tests, app-based food ordering among new safety protocols announced this week

People came out in numbers to memorialize George Floyd, who was fatally shot by police, outside San Francisco City Hall on June 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFPD prepares for possible protests as Chauvin trial continues

Police to schedule community meetings, provide officers with crowd control training

Mayor London Breed said Tuesday that with other counties moving ahead with expanding vaccine eligibility “we want San Franciscans to have the same opportunity.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Everyone in SF ages 16 and up is now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine

San Francisco expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday to everyone ages… Continue reading

San Francisco Park Rangers have seen their budget and staffing levels increase significantly since 2014. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Citations for being in SF’s public parks after midnight soar

Data shows disproportionate impact on Black residents

Central City SRO Collective tenant leader Reggie Reed, left, and Eddie Ahn, executive director of Brightline Defense, were among those distributing environmental awareness posters throughout the Tenderloin, Mid-Market and South of Market neighborhoods. (Courtesy Central City SRO Collaborative)
Environmental dangers are connected to racism

Let’s attack problems with better policies, greater awareness

Most Read