Pop Culture

McLovin steals the show in ‘Superbad’

“Superbad” has been so super-ubiquitous, it only feels like it’s already been in theaters for months.

Between the posters, TV commercials and promotional appearances by its stars, the hype machine has been in full force. Just ask anyone under 25 who McLovin is — they’ll immediately be able to tell you.

And the association with “Knocked Up,” one of the summer’s biggest hits and one of the best comedies in a while, certainly doesn’t hurt. Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed that film, serves as producer here; Seth Rogen, its star, co-wrote the “Superbad” script and has a supporting role as a hilariously inept police officer.

But “Knocked Up” is a hard act to follow, so the smartest thing you can do for yourself walking into “Superbad” is lower your expectations. It has all the laughs of its predecessor but only about half the heart.

Still, co-stars Jonah Hill and Michael Cera are pretty irresistible together as high school best friends on a quest for alcohol, which they hope will help them hook up with girls at a big party before they graduate. The sweetness and awkwardness of their freakishly co-dependent relationship is totally believable, and their personalities and comic styles complement each other beautifully. Not a moment between them feels false in the script from Rogen and Evan Goldberg, themselves best friends since high school who based the movie on their own adolescent angst.

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But Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as an even geekier kid who gets a fake ID with the one-word name McLovin, pretty much steals the whole thing in his first film. Initially you think he’s going to be a minor figure, a guy who floats in and out, gets tooled on for laughs and then leaves. But similar to the respectful treatment Steve Carell received in Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Mintz-Plasse’s scrawny, bespectacled Fogell has a rich, full experience all his own — much more so than other characters in the movie who kid themselves by thinking they’re higher up on the food chain.

Director Greg Mottola is visiting familiar territory here — the high school hijinks movie has been a staple from “American Graffiti” to “American Pie” — but everyone is relatable and the situations rarely feel strained, which makes “Superbad” a cut above most.

Taking place over the course of a day, the film follows the misadventures of Seth (Hill) and Evan (Cera) — named for the screenwriters who inspired them — the closest of pals since childhood who are about to leave each other for the first time to attend separate colleges. They’re both trying not to freak out about this; actually, they struggle to keep themselves from talking about it. So instead they throw all their energy into figuring out a way to buy alcohol for a big bash at the home of pretty, popular Jules (Emma Stone), whose parents are out of town in classic teen-movie fashion.

More than a bit nerdy, these guys are just psyched to have been invited, even if it’s only for their supposed booze-buying ability. Seth, the tubby, profane trash-talker of the two, is desperate to lose his virginity before heading off to college and hopes his newfound connection with cool-girl Jules will do the trick. Up-and-coming comic actor Hill has a great energy about him and he’s had a solid few years as a regular member of Apatow’s troop; he was the best part of the watered-down “Evan Almighty.”

Evan, meanwhile, is skinnier and kinder, more thoughtful and more timid. He’s had a longtime crush on classmate Becca (Martha MacIssac), a girl who’s nice enough to give him the time of day, unlike most, and who might have a secret crush on him, too. Cera is probably best known for playing the lovably goofy George-Michael Bluth on the sadly defunct sitcom “Arrested Development.” Here, his self-conscious starts and stops reveal more than a few glimmers of his TV character, and while he’s funny and extremely likable in that mode, he also makes you want to see what else he can do.

But while Seth and Evan fumble toward inebriation, it’s the unlikely Fogell, the guy with the cheesy ID, who has the greatest adventure of all. We won’t give away the details — though you probably already know what happens, since awareness of all things “Superbad” is so high. We’ll just say that McLovin turns out to be the baddest mutha by far.

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