The Movie Review: 'Superbad'

"I'm sorry," the boy tells the girl whose posterior he's just whipped with some surgical tubing. "Your butt was calling to me." This assertion of anatomical enthusiasm was the second line voiced by Seth Rogen's character on "Freaks and Geeks," the critically acclaimed but short-lived NBC dramedy produced by Judd Apatow in 1999-2000. Over the subsequent eight years, Rogen and Apatow have collaborated frequently, first on television--following "Freaks and Geeks," there was the also acclaimed, also cancelled Fox show "Undeclared"--and subsequently on the big screen, where their interest in intimate body parts and what can be done with them has only grown more pronounced. In a supporting role in Apatow's 2005 The 40 Year Old Virgin, and again this year as his lead in Knocked Up, Rogen has, in Apatow's words, always pushed him to be more "outrageously dirty."

This will come as no surprise to anyone braving the Apatow-produced, Rogen-penned teen sex comedy Superbad, one of the most remarkably--and, at its best, hilariously--filthy examples of the genre ever produced. The story is so simple it's almost primal: Two clumsy high-school seniors, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) want to get laid. To accomplish this goal, they seek to acquire alcohol for a party being thrown by girls they like. The purpose is twofold: By bringing booze to the party, they will establish themselves as sexually worthy; by getting the girls copiously drunk, they will render themselves sexually irresistible.

The weak link in this otherwise flawless chain of logic comes in the form of their geeky friend--that is to say, more geeky than they are, which is saying a lot--Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has recently acquired a fake ID and is therefore crucial to their plans. The fact that Fogell chose to describe himself on his new ID as a 25-year-old Hawaiian organ-donor named "McLovin" is only the first hint of the difficulties that will lie ahead. Fogell is caught in the midst of a liquor-store robbery and subsequently befriended by the police officers at the scene, who teach him the finer points of alcohol consumption, picking up chicks, and gunplay. Meanwhile, Seth and Evan (so named after Rogen and his co-writer, Evan Goldberg) make an unscheduled detour to a shindig hosted by a seedy thug and his ostentatiously menstruating girlfriend, at which Evan is forced to perform the Guess Who's "These Eyes" before a group of hostile cokeheads. All three boys, of course, ultimately make it to the party for their intended, though ultimately fraught, sexual assignations.

If this plot sounds a tad halfhearted, that's because it is. During the central part of the film, the quest for booze, there are some good gags--notably, a disastrous cell-phone call between Evan and his would-be girlfriend--but plenty that land flat as well. This middle portion isn't bad, but it's not particularly memorable either: We've seen comparable bits in the American Pie movies, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Road Trip, and any number of other cheerfully adolescent diversions.

Where Superbad really sings--again, in the filthiest key imaginable--is in the moments when nothing much is happening at all. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie consist almost exclusively of raunchy repartee between Seth and Evan--in the car, on the football field, during Home Ec class. Discussing what porn site Seth should subscribe to, they weigh competing values: quantity, variety, degree of explicitness, how obvious the charge will be when it shows up on a credit card bill. ("What about 'Perfect 10'?" suggests Evan. "That could be anything. That could be a bowling site.") Later, Seth's confession of his childhood passion for drawing penises is among the lewdest set pieces ever committed to celluloid, a dirty joke that continues to build on itself long after achieving comedic critical mass.

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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