If you allow video games to warp your brain enough, you start to view life as series of pixelated levels to be conquered.
When you get out of work, you see the fireworks that Mario gets when he slides on the flagpole. On the drive home, stuck in traffic, you dream about clearing the way with a lightning bolt that makes everyone in front of you shrink and spin out. On payday, you hear the “dingdingdingding” of jumbo-sized coins accumulating in your bank account. When you go to sleep you see the outlines of falling Tetris pieces inside your eyelids.
OK, so maybe it’s just me. Well, me, Scott Pilgrim graphic novel author Bryan Lee O’Malley and his legions of fans.
If you haven’t wasted a significant portion of your life on video games, particularly those in the 1980s and 90s, the magical realism-infused Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may seem about as relateable as a non-subtitled Czech comedy.
But if you have, discovering the movie is as blissful as hitting a random coin block to see it spawn a fast-growing vine that launches you into coin heaven.
Michael Cera stars as the same waifish, insecure bundle of post-adolescent nerves he always plays. Some are tired of the schtick, wishing he’d branch out and try different roles, but not me. When you do something well, I say run it into the ground until the paychecks stop coming in. Cera’s characters are some of the few leading men in movies who make you feel better about yourself. You think, hey I could take that guy in a fight.
Except you’d be wrong, at least in this movie, because Scott Pilgrim is an unstoppable dynamo of ass-kicking fury. He’s tasked to defeat the seven evil exes of his dream girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Sometimes the fights are Street Fighter-like throwdowns, with yoga flames and tiger uppercuts, while other times they’re guitar hero bass battles and Tony Hawk rail sliding challenges gone wrong. Each tangle ends with Scott dispatching the mini boss into a poof of disappearing pixels, and naturally, a pile full of coins.
Director Edgar Wright, who’s proved to be an ace of offbeat humor in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, maintaining his niche momentum in the movie, collaborating on a ridiculously quotable script and peppering the screen with infinite sight gags. It’s a movie you could probably watch five times and still find new sneaky references on each additional viewing. It’s filmmaking that makes you feel –well – not smart, but well informed on a trivial, arguably pointless topic.
The only knock on the film I can fathom is that the theater seems like way too formal of a setting to watch it. It’s destined to be playing in the background at bars and house parties. It will be worshipped in pot-smoke filled dorm rooms and cause rubber-necking when played on commuters’ iPads. The movie taps into something shallow and false that too few will be able to relate to. It’s an obnoxious, navel-gazing, uproarious tribute to a life well wasted.
Starring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Written by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright, based on the Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novel. Directed by Wright. Rated PG-13. 112 minutes.
Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available on Amazon.