April 01, 2009


"Shush...don't tell them 'Saturday Night Live'
hasn't been relevant since, well, the 1980s.

Grade: B –
Director: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr, and Margarita Levieva
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Everyone who ever had a crappy summer job during their younger years can relate to the subculture in Adventureland. Out of a stew of school-age workers and their adult-age overseers, hierarchies are forged, rivalries form, friendships grow, and romance blooms. Some of these relationships are genuine, but most of them germinate in order to allay the monotony of the temp milieu.

When his parents are suddenly unable to fund a post-college graduation European dream vacation or tuition to journalism school at Columbia University, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, presumably because Michael Cera was busy) must settle for a menial job d’été as a carnie running rickety rides and rigged games at the titular local amusement park. As James tries to “find himself,” he falls for a comely, angst-filled teen, Em (Kristen Stewart), who is embroiled in an affair with the park’s handyman (Ryan Reynolds), a married amateur musician who perpetuates his studly aura by spinning yarns about the time he jammed with Lou Reed.

While Eisenberg and Reynolds more than carry their weight, it is Stewart who shines brightest as she continues to ride her method acumen to seeming stardom. SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play the park’s gonzo caretakers, while Freak and Geeks alum Martin Starr is amusingly deadpan as James’ glum, romantically frustrated coworker. And, children of the 1980s will revel in the film’s Reagan-era tableau: the hair, the video arcades, the weed, the strains of “Rock Me Amadeus” blaring incessantly over the park’s loudspeakers.

Notwithstanding the game cast and cultural accoutrements, however, the formulaic plot evokes dozens of similar coming-of-age dramedies – like Garden State and Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist – that do not rise to the level of a John Hughes ‘80s demi-classic. Adventureland aims to be a kindler, gentler version of writer-director Greg Mottola’s Superbad. But, in an effort to sate the ribald comedic sensibilities of the Apatow-crowd and the arthouse sensibilities of the Sundance-crowd, Mottola doesn’t do justice to either camp.

Neil Morris

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