I don’t want to be one of those alarmist film critics always telling you how to live, but, guys, seriously, we are rapidly depleting the world’s supply of teenage-sex comedies. Most are made of at least 75-percent recycled materials, but our creation of new gags when the old ones are still good — the uncomfortably realistic masturbation scenes, the wacky coitus interruptus, the epileptic stripper getting stabbed in the face with a fork (OK, that one was just Miss March) — can only be labeled conspicuous consumption. If we don’t stop soon, there may be no boner jokes left for our children’s children.
Youth in Revolt, the latest cinematic chronicle of a loser’s epic battle with his cherry, inevitably repeats most of the above scenes and burns through a few more tropes from Hollywood’s endangered-cliché list: the horny Indian guy (one count), multiple personalities (one count), unintentional drug use by the elderly/uptight (two counts), overly clever dialogue from high-school kids, and Michael Cera acting painfully, sweetly gawky (one-kajillion counts each). Revolt director Miguel Arteta (Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl) and screenwriter Gustin Nash (Charlie Bartlett) do, however, recast several of these well-worn elements to serve their own (and source author C.D. Payne’s) sensibility for a film that’s not completely unexpected, but probably different enough to stay the cries for whack-off-humor rationing a little while longer.
As Sinatra-loving, foreign-film-renting Oakland high-school student Nick Twisp, Cera’s having his usual troubles getting laid, or for that matter even interacting normally with girls or dudes his own age. Worse, his rundown mom (Smart) and her redneck, truck-driving boyfriend, Jerry (Galifianakis) have enough loud, obvious sex to convince him he’s the only virgin in the world — besides, of course, his bitter, crooked-dicked best friend, Lefty (Knudsen). After Jerry pisses off some sailors, he flees with Nick and his mom to the Restless Axles trailer park in Ukiah. There, Nick meets Francophile and potential soul-mate/girl-to-put-his-thing-in Sheeni (Doubleday), a port blocked by an alpha-male boyfriend (Jonathan B. Wright) and ultra-religious parents (M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place). Their courtship follows the slow discursive route of those foreign films they idolize with awkward conversations (not awkward as in full of blushing embarrassments, but awkward as in full of uncomfortable pauses and dull comments) in real time, and Nick winds up heading home before she’s made him a man. The two hatch a plan to get Nick back to Ukiah, though: Sheeni will find his dad (Steve Buscemi) a job nearby, and Nick will become a juvenile delinquent, bad enough to get his mom to pawn him off on his father.
In order to be bad, Nick invents an alter ego for himself, Francois Dillinger, a cigarette-puffing Eurotrash troublemaker with a seedy sex-offender mustache. Francois leads Nick to misdeeds that begin as Problem Child shenanigans, but quickly escalate to felonies. You’ve seen this before, so Revolt skips over any big Fight Club reveal, or the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde struggle for self-control to get right to the good stuff — Cera squared.
That this is ultimately the Cera show makes Revolt’s absolutely incredible cast list (add Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, and, um, Justin Long to the above names) seem gratuitous, and in that company, Cera’s limitations are pretty obvious. He does fine in the double role — the inauthenticity of his badass doppelgänger is part of the joke — but as the extremes his character goes to grow increasingly antiheroic, it becomes obvious Cera’s too likeable to pull off the Danny McBride act. But those disparate elements — raunch tempered with gradual pacing and punctuated by ridiculous plot turns, would-be squirm humor packaged in the too adorable nerd next door — coupled with an unnecessarily awesome cast of character actors makes for a stranger sort of high-school sex comedy. And maybe, at a time when three Van Wilders and seven (that’s right, seven) American Pies threaten to drain our teenage-pussyhound reserves dry, recycled gags in a new package are about the best we can responsibly ask for. — Jeremy Martin
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