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Movie review: 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'

Comic-book geeks rule in Scott Pilgrim's world, and Michael Cera makes the perfect slacker superhero to take on Edgar Wright's ode to fanboys.

August 13, 2010|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

In "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," the inventive, free-floating ode to nerdville, the comic-book geek stays in the picture. Whether it's Scott's everyday loser life or his ninja-fighting, super-powered imaginary one, it's all played with a sort of Michael Cera-styled sweet, nebbishy sensibility that works well since the real Michael Cera actually got the role. Go figure.

Actually, there was a lot of figuring to be done to convert Bryan Lee O'Malley's distinctive artistic, and loosely autobiographical, musings about a 22-year-old Toronto native whose life is framed by his total lack of ambition until he's in a fight to the death to woo the girl of his dreams. Whew. Which is why Edgar Wright of "Shaun of the Dead," with all its slacker-zombie nonsense, seemed like such a good choice to direct. He was.

Scott's life is loosely envisioned as a video game, with Cera channeling his Cera-ness perfectly, which is tougher than it looks. Be prepared for a lot of free-associating inside this fantastical world where the ordinary rules of gravity, coolness and linear storytelling do not necessarily apply.

There are various gaming and social networking conceits — among them snarky comments on screen to help the older-or-other-generationals among you keep things straight, and provide those in the know with a laugh. Example: As each character enters the picture, they get a Facebook-style voice-over intro — name, age, relationship status — accompanied by pop-up captions with the same details scrawled out, repetition that will either annoy you or amuse you. But it's not a bad idea since the filmmakers pile on a lot of details in a very short time.

Meanwhile that dream girl's name is Ramona ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and she has seven deadly exes, as opposed to seven deadly sins, which is more the norm for chicks in fanboy films. Scott must fight each "to the death," with a death earning high scores and a rainstorm of coins, while kisses (with the girl, not the exes) burst into fireworks of floating hearts. You kind of have to be there.

That is the genius and difficulty of "Scott Pilgrim"; it both defies and, at its lower moments, meets expectations for this sort of film. The screenplay, written by the director and Michael Bacall ("Manic"), remains true to O'Malley's six-volume Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. Director of photography Bill Pope, who's no stranger to the conversion of graphic concepts to the big screen, having done "Darkman" and the last two "Spider-Mans," among others, keeps Scott's world on the ethereal, hyper-realized side whether or not he's in superhero mode.

Absurdity is in every corner as Scott finds himself in one pickle after another; it's a mix of sweet and sour bites, but bracing regardless. All the action swirls around Scott's love life, which by all accounts he shouldn't even have. Nevertheless, being true to the dreams of the awkward everywhere, Scott has managed to land one hot chick after another. His latest flicker (flame would just be overstating the case) is a 17-year-old high-schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Don't worry about the age thing, though Scott's savvy younger sister, the consistently excellent Anna Kendrick (best known as the uptight young exec in "Up in the Air"), does. The young lovers mainly hold hands and giggle — until Ramona rollerblades into Scott's dreams, then turns up at a party a few hours later.

Ramona is an intriguing character, handled in intriguing ways by the very promising Winstead. She's thrift store-chic, blue-streaked hair. But mainly, she's got the enigmatic honesty of a twentysomething trying to figure out who she is. Winstead gives Ramona the right dash of moxie and a splash of sexy.

The exes that Scott must dispense with are tangy little slices of genre satires. It would spoil the fun to say more beyond that each has its own charm and the final one, thanks to a very funny Jason Schwartzman, might be the best. Scott has a few exes of his own to deal with too, and all the exes, both his and hers, do smart turns, in part because of the many smart actors you'll remember from other projects that drop by: Alison Pill, of "Milk" and "In Treatment," as a former sweetheart working through her issues as Sex Bob-Omb's drummer and "Fantastic Four's" Chris Evans as skateboard superstar Ramona-ex, among others.

There are pop culture references galore thrown into the mix — sitcom laugh tracks, noir references, the "Seinfeld" theme song and so on. Things do go on too long, and repeat themselves, as the film toggles between the fights and Scott trying to figure out if Ramona is the one. Though the fun is not so much in who wins or loses the girl — it's the playing that matters, and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" definitely has game.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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