By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Though presumably aimed at a teen audience, the action comedy "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (Universal) is too wildly violent and sexually freewheeling to be endorsed for young or old. This is all the more regrettable since the frenetic proceedings squander some intriguing cultural commentary and the undeniable gift for amusing understatement of star Michael Cera.
Cera plays the title character, an angst-ridden Toronto twentysomething. As the action opens, Scott, an aspiring rock guitarist in a small-time band, is busy demonstrating his emotional immaturity by dating 17-year-old Catholic high school student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Though — as the script is at pains to point out — their relationship has yet to reach the first-kiss phase, this is still a morally, and even legally, tenuous situation that raises uncomfortable questions for viewers.
Before anything too untoward can happen, Scott has his head turned by aloof, ubercool Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), literally the girl of his dreams since, as we’ve seen, he had a vision of her before their first meeting.
To win Ramona’s heart, Scott must not only confront the awkward duty of dumping Knives but also battle a succession of Ramona’s "evil exes" in bone-crunching, video-game-style combat. His formidable opponents include Bollywood-style brawler Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), skateboarder-turned-movie-star Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) and Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), a rival musician whose fighting prowess is powered by his vegan diet.
In adapting Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels, director and co-writer (with Michael Bacall) Edgar Wright cleverly contrasts Scott’s mundane real-life existence with the hyperbole of his pop culture-inspired imagination. But, though gore-free and caricatured — in a manner reminiscent of the 1960s television series "Batman" — the relentless throwdowns are jarring and ultimately tiresome.
Along with a scene in which Scott and Ramona have a bedroom encounter interrupted by Ramona’s last-minute decision to hold off on having sex until some future time of her own choosing, the script also features subplots that portray gay relationships and group sex as a perfectly acceptable "given" of modern life. The most prominent of those subplots concerns the amorous adventures of Scott’s roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin).
Thus, Wallace’s seduction of a female friend’s date — who eventually turns up in his bed along with another man — is treated as a joke.
The film contains pervasive harsh, though bloodless violence, frivolous treatment of aberrant sexuality, brief nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity, a same-sex kiss, several bleeped and one audible use of the F-word and some crude as well as much crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.