There isn’t a single plausible or knowing moment in the whole of Superbad, a film as much a part of fantasy’s realm as The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, only with much more padding and even fewer laughs. Above all, and much to the frustration of anyone who values summer entertainment that moves above a crawl, Superbad might as well be six hours long, as it drones endlessly through adolescent clichés and standards of the genre so past their expiration date that even Porky’s smells vaguely fresh by comparison. This is a movie that desperately wants to be the definitive portrait of its generation — and partially succeeds if we are to accept that today’s 18-year-olds are self-involved, painfully unlikable creeps — but fails in a broader sense by removing its interactions from planet Earth altogether. Concerning the “teen flick,” it is usually enough to toss in some masturbation jokes, an unattainable hottie, the big party, and a string of embarrassments, but Superbad breaks the rules by inserting two cops (Seth Rogan and Bill Hader) who wouldn’t pass muster in a Keystone comedy, and just barely qualify for the Police Academy series. Previews make it seem as if they are mere cameos (which would make sense, since Rogan is a co-writer), but once they appear, they never fucking leave, and kill any good cheer that might have been possible. They are so stupid, so unrealistic, and so broadly sketched that it took everything in my power to remain seated. In a flash, they transformed a passable (though obvious) piece of fluff and made it hateful.
The world certainly didn’t need yet another movie about “that last night before it all changed,” but I would have settled for it had it held even one-tenth the ambitions of, say, American Graffiti. Comedies of this sort do not need to speak to larger cultural issues, of course, but they sure as hell need to reflect the actual lives of young people. Otherwise, why are we laughing? Some might appreciate the infusion of populism into American cinema in recent years (underdogs are once again hip, even sexy), but with too much of what Judd Apatow (he’s the producer this time around) touches these days, nerds and the tragically uncool lead lives that aren’t nearly as painful as they ought to be. Since when did fat, obnoxious virgins get invited to parties, or hyper-shy wallflowers stand on the receiving end of hottie flirtations? I understand that Apatow would like to reinvent his past in order to deal with the pain of having flopped around like a dying fish, but he’s not doing the fringe set any favors by promising an Eden at the end of hellish torment. And while goons have always lusted after chicks they couldn’t possibly fuck (who else stimulated our fantasies and late-night bouts of self-abuse?), when did the cinema start arguing that dreams could in fact come true? Ask and you shall receive! One of Superbad’s super lies is that high school hierarchies don’t really exist, and weekend festivities are not only open to all, but rife with sexual opportunity for hunk and loser alike. So geeky that you’d likely lose a fistfight to Louis Skolnick? Never you mind, you’ll be sans pants and straddled by a sweet young tart within the hour.
Nevertheless, it would be far too one-sided to toss Superbad into the ash can simply for asking us to believe that the unpopular can get laid. Instead, it all comes back to the two clueless officers. They alone drove this picture off the rails, and nothing short of a third act orgy could have saved it. The movie was limping along until that point, boring but not offensive, when the plot turned on securing alcohol. Okay, everyone under 21 can relate to that, and at first, it seemed like the direction the story needed. Even the initial party invitation from the hot girls could have been dismissed as the same sad story of horny lonely guys falling for batting eyelashes and a glimpse of tit. They actually think these girls desire their company! The saps. Who knew that they really did, but that horror was to come. In steps Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), with a fake Hawaii driver’s license that says “McLovin” and a silly vest to emphasize his pathetic nature. He’s assigned the task of hitting a liquor store and bringing hope to Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), who have promised the girls of their dreams a booze-soaked evening. Needless to say, the cashier buys Fogell’s story, and when he’s about to walk out, a robber storms in, steals cash from the register, and knocks Fogell to the ground. The cops are called, which threatens to blow the deal, even though — in any universe save this one — the ID would have been confiscated and the zit-faced buffoon told to get the fuck lost. But in walk Laurel and Hardy, the two wackiest cops in cinema history, and while taking statements, they too appear to buy Fogell’s story, and even offer to drive him home.
And wouldn’t you know it, the ride doesn’t turn out as expected, and Fogell becomes a witness to all sorts of wild adventures. Because, of course officers of the law would take a civilian on a call, and even ask that he help apprehend a suspect. And of course men in blue would guzzle beers in a bar while watching Fogell’s surveillance tape from the liquor store holdup, even handing him the tape at the end. Oh, and it was so precious when they let him handle their guns, fire at street signs, conspire to frame suspects, and help set their cop car aflame in order to hide evidence of the night’s happenings. Again, had the cops come and gone, they would have been ridiculous, but not deadly. Instead, they hang around like unwanted house guests and rot away before our eyes. We can literally feel the blood drain from the screenplay. By the end, we do learn that the cops knew Fogell’s ID was a fake (golly, what gave it away?), but simply wanted to show him a good time. Yeah, that makes it all better. After the three friends finally get to the party and Fogell implausibly ends up in bed with a real live woman, the cops return in full force, interrupting the sexual conquest, but helping the lad achieve lasting infamy by pretending to hustle him out as a “dangerous” criminal. Because we all know that while the ladies love a bad boy, they love a glasses-wearing beanpole with a Spock haircut and voice like Kermit the Frog even more. The scene ends with Fogell’s new love saying, “We were going to Hawaii together.” Of course you were, dear.
Some have said that Superbad ultimately has its heart in the right place, as it explores adolescent friendship with tenderness and honesty. Perhaps. Yes, male bonds are tested by impending separations, as well as the fear that women will drive them apart, and are just as surely delicate dances of vagina obsession and overt gay flirtation. In lieu of actual interactions with females, an obsession with cock acts as a substitute, pushing the boundaries of homoerotic longing without actually crossing the line. High school buddies don’t “hook up,” in other words, nor do they want to, but with hormones raging out of control and no one else in the vicinity, the pent-up frustrations need some kind of audience. And when one is a loser with the opposite sex, these friends take on an even greater importance, as one learns to cultivate other aspects of the self that would be impossible if weekends were packed with activities. Perhaps I’m speaking for myself in light of how I survived my days as a teenage virgin, but as much as I would have killed my mother for a blowjob, I’m glad in retrospect that I had the free time — nothing but, really — to define myself in ways unrelated to the unrelenting judgment of my peers. No conformity was necessary, because my circle of friends had nothing to lose. Say what you will about the social ladder’s bottom rung, but at least you couldn’t sink any lower. If you made an ass out of yourself, for example, or actually had the temerity to utter something controversial, you’d bear the brunt, but not the corresponding loss of status.
This movie isn’t an exploration of that life on the edge, or how many high school guys might deliberately stay away from chicks in order to preserve their friendships. That’s simply granting Superbad an integrity it doesn’t deserve, or a relevance it couldn’t possibly hope to attain. Instead, it’s simply beer jokes, and cock jokes, and gallons of vomit in search of an idea, loaded down with the assumption that we’ll be so distracted by the profanity that we won’t notice how bad the dialogue really is. Some will claim copious chuckles and guffaws, but I didn’t flinch a single time, except for the slight release of air when some Asian kid acted like a cat and licked his hands. Even the opening credits tried too hard. Aping the funk and groove of the 1970s, they were the sort of phony retro bullshit that takes for granted the idea that the decade was so awful as to now be hip by default. It was simply the comfort of the familiar without any real substance. Moreover, we’ve seen it all before — bigger and better in nearly every case — and I shudder to think that this is what now passes for youth in America. I didn’t nod with understanding, or smile with memory’s glow; I sat bored out of my mind as the sounds of simpleminded teenage fantasy filled the air. It’s not that I need to see that the kids are far from alright, or that the only vision worth preserving is of pain, depression, and violent outburst, but keep it grounded at the very least. I’ve repeated it often enough to give myself a headache, but here we go again: All humor stems from recognition, and whether a guilty laugh or one of sweet release, we always need to see the truth behind the pratfall. Nothing about this night for these boys was possible. Not a single scene. We can do much with lies, even laughter, but confusing them for life as lived is the most dangerous game of all.