Only fans will care who wins
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, August 13, 2010
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is a dog-frequency movie: enjoyable only to those tuned in to its particular register. Based on a graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley, this hyper-kinetic pop-culture pastiche stars Michael Cera -- he of the quavery voice and dilated gaze -- as the title character, a 22-year-old Lothario and would-be rocker who meets the girl of his dreams, then sets out to defeat her seven exes to gain her love.
Love, actually, has little to do with it in a story populated by progressively snarkier, self-involved characters. Stripped of his doe-eyed looks and indie-nerd style, Pilgrim is a selfish jerk; Ramona V. Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who in her rainbow-colored pageboys resembles a grown-up version of Hit-Girl from the eerily similar "Kick-Ass," isn't much warmer, looking on with a blase shrug as her suitor risks life and limb on her behalf.
The two are surrounded by a posse of equally snarly, eye-rolling hipsters, the biggest neg-heads being Kim Pine (Alison Pill), the drummer in Pilgrim's band, and his roommate, Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), whose sexual orientation provides nearly endless fodder for gay jokes. The only sympathetic character is a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), who, in a romantic fantasy only a boy could conceive, gamely urges him to follow Ramona even after cruelly dumping her.
The story and characters of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," then, are negligible. But fans of the novel aren't likely to care, reserving their most passionate interest for how director Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz") has brought their precious antihero to the screen. The short answer: every which way he can, borrowing references from video games, cartoons, sitcoms and other movies to create a multi-layered collage that makes the levels of "Inception" look like a toddler's Tinkertoy project.
There are funny moments: The film's best fight is between Pilgrim and Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), a buff-but-dumb vegan who becomes hoisted on his own self-righteous petard. But what Wright possesses in a talent for swift, visually rich image-making he lacks in a sense of pacing and proportion. He dials "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" up to 11 within minutes, leaving him nowhere to take the narrative energy. Trippy on-screen titles ("Riiiing!" when a telephone rings, "Dddddd" when someone plays the bass), Super Mario Bros. graphics, light saber duels, jump cuts, screen wipes, zingers, quips and doggerel -- it's all played with the same emphasis and knowing insularity. Unless you can hear its particular whistle, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is a grind, as monotonous and enervating as one long, sneering in-joke.
Contains stylized violence, sexual content, profanity and drug references.