Movies: Scott Pilgrim vs The World * *
12A, General release
On the face of it, Scott Pilgrim vs The World has all the ingredients of a successful indie-style teen comedy. It's based on a hip Canadian comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, it has a good cast, a promising premise, a soundtrack peppered with rock-lite pop tunes, and it also has Michael Cera, the patron saint of teen comedies.
It sounds like all everyone had to do was show up. But as it turns out Scott Pilgrim is a flashy, uneven and deeply unsatisfactory film that is not even half as clever as it thinks it is.
Perhaps part of the problem is the choice of thoroughly English writer/director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), whose sensibilities may be at odds with this quintessentially north American project.
Another is the source material, and the questionable decision to include animated touches as a nod to the story's cartoon origins. Indeed, it seems that no one could decide whether this was a drama or a cartoon caper, and the result is a very uneasy compromise.
Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year-old Toronto slacker who plays bass in a band called Sex Bob-omb but spends most of his time worrying about who he's going out with and who he isn't. For Scott is an unlikely ladies' man, and his latest squeeze is a schoolgirl called Knives Chau (played by Ellen Wong).
As Knives is only 17, Scott's fellow band members do not approve, but she's pretty and she's crazy about him and he enjoys the adulation. Until he has a strange dream about a girl with dyed red hair on rollerblades, and then meets her.
Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a cool and mysterious girl who's recently moved to Canada from New York, and though she initially seems indifferent to Scott's dweeby charm, he's delighted when she agrees to go out with him, and poor old Knives is dropped.
But there's a problem: when Sex Bob-omb are competing at a battle of the bands contest Scott is attacked by a very angry stranger, whom he defeats in a ninja-style fight.
He then learns that Ramona has amassed a 'League of Evil Exes', and Scott must defeat all seven of them if he's to win her hand. And so, as a subplot involving the band's attempts to land themselves a record contract bubbles away in the background, Scott is assaulted by a series of opponents, culminating in the League's organiser Gideon Graves, played with effeminate relish by Jason Schwartzman.
All of this rumbles along at a handy pace, and initially there are some funny moments courtesy of the exchanges between Scott and his gay best friend Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin). But essentially most of the talking is mere respite between a series of jokey cartoon fights in which opponents disappear in a puff of smoke as Scott's score rises in the manner of a video game.
At times Scott Pilgrim looks and feels like an adult romantic comedy, at others it descends to the level of an episode of Scooby Doo. And while Edgar Wright and his co-writers might feel there's a kind of subversive edginess to their heightened cartoon world, there really isn't.
And I'm not sure either that this is a case of old farts like me not getting it: when a teen film is good enough, it should be accessible to anyone with a half-open mind.
Maybe the film might have worked better if its makers had gone the whole hog and made it as a manga-style cartoon. As it is, Scott Pilgrim's characters are so flat they might as well have done so.
As always, Cera wanders through his scenes like some who's just donated blood against his wishes, and his listlessness makes the eruptions of violence seem all the more ridiculous.
Edgar Wright's film is loud and flashy, but not nearly funny enough to paper over the cracks of a very thin story.