Adventureland Review

Sunday, March 29, 2009 7:37 PM

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to catch a sneak preview of Adventureland. I've tried to avoid spoilers (what few there could possibly be), but if you need to see it with a truly open mind then I suggest hitting your back button now. Onto the review!

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My Adventureland trip tip -- you may want to save the $10 you planned to spend on a movie ticket and use it on a fun upcharge attraction instead. You'll get more enjoyment out of it without feeling like you totally wasted your money.

To be fair, Adventureland isn't a horrible movie, just a horrifically mediocre one. The story of James Brennan (Jesse Eiserberg), who lands a summer job at the local amusement park to save up some cash, has about as many twists and turns as a Schwarzkopf shuttle looper. The plot is maddeningly predictable -- boy meets girl (Em, played by Kristen Stewart), girl has issues, boy shows an interest for the resident park tramp thereby creating new issues, and through the magic of movies everything gets wrapped up in a neat and tidy ending where boy lands girl and happiness ensues.

The fact that the movie takes place in an amusement park setting does little to advance the storyline itself; it could have just as easily been shot at a grocery store, a car wash, or even the moon. The location is merely an added device in which to inject some much-needed side bits of humor, though if you watched the trailer you'll have already witnessed 90 percent of that.

Part of the fault lies with the primary characters, be it from the writing or the acting sides. The lead role felt like it was written specifically for Michael Cera -- that of a young man so insecure in his feelings and actions, yet permeated by an innocence that begets compassion and perhaps pity from those around him. It's an archetype that Cera tends to play to perfection, but Eiserberg merely tries to mimic those efforts rather than inject his own nuances into the character. The audience is left to draw comparisons between the two actors, and quite frankly Eiserberg is no Cera.

Stewart, on the other hand, is the heart and soul of this film. Her character is simultaneously sweet, charming, conflicted, vulnerable, and morally corrupted -- someone who grew up through difficult circumstances, made some poor decisions, yet managed to retain her own individuality and inner beauty. While some scenes pushed Em into near-contrived circumstances, as a whole the character is the only one in the movie that evokes any kind of emotional reaction.

The remainder of the core cast consist of your standard stereotypes. Eric (Michael Zegen), the nerdy coworker with a lack of social skills and looks only a mother could love; Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), the ditzy gossp/mean girl who feeds off the lust her glamorous visage provides; and Connell (the oft-underrated Ryan Reynolds), the hot maintenance guy who happens to be quite skilled with his hands, though not necessarily when it comes to fixing things.

The only two real standouts are Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and the incredibly-talented Kristen Wiig), who as the happy-go-lucky owners of Adventureland consistently steal every scene they appear in. They provide the movie with comic relief, but don't appear often enough. I went in expecting a somewhat zany comedy about life at an amusement park, so compared with the finished product I would have rather seen the script rewritten and told from their perspective.

Indeed, "Adventureland" itself accounts for 20, maybe 25 percent of the movie. While I was initially giddy with excitement over seeing Phantom's Revenge cameo on the silver screen (and who really cares that the flick was set in 1987, years before the Steel Phantom was even erected?), this sadly was not our equivalent of what Waiting was to the restaurant world. Certain aspects hit home -- like the bad midway music that repeats 20 times a day or the non-stop drama that ensues when you throw hundreds of horny teenagers together. Even the uniforms -- Games! Games! Games! -- are timeless in their cheesiness.

Yet the Adventureland world was one inhabited not by guests wanting to have fun, but by those who litter next to trash cans, throw up everywhere, or brandish a knife when they don't get the prize they want. While I suppose it's expected that a movie about a park would serve to merely paint caricatures of the obnoxious GP, I felt it did park workers everywhere a disservice by depicting them all as alcoholic, drug-dependent deadbeats who can't get through a shift without smoking a joint or chugging a beer.

In the end, Adventureland is the equivalent of that great-looking new roller coaster you've been itching to ride all winter long. The stats are impressive. The preview animations are watched over and over again. Yet when you finally ride and the train hits the last set of brakes, you sit there wondering "that's it?" There are no surprises, no real memorable moments. Sadly, it suffers the worst trait of forgettable coasters -- it's simply a credit.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009 8:12 PM

Well, the 'At the Movies' dudes said See It!!

So how long was it?

Also, other than background shots and the like, did PR have any close-up's, so to speak?! ;)

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Sunday, March 29, 2009 8:16 PM

Obviously I have to see it now, since I can't believe you'd give Cera any credit for playing anyone other than himself, and refer to Wiig as "talented." She plays the same socially challenged moron in everything she does, albeit with different voices.

It sounds like you may have taken the movie too seriously, especially the park tie-ins, but I guess I'll have to wait and see for myself. :)

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Sunday, March 29, 2009 10:58 PM

That is one of the most honest, enjoyable movie reviews ever! I can't wait to see it!

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Sunday, March 29, 2009 11:31 PM

I may not be the biggest Cera fan -- I thought he was the weakest link in Arrested Development, honestly -- I can contest that he pulls certain roles off quite effortlessly. As for Wiig, I will certainly defend her; I think she's the best female addition to the SNL cast since Poehler, and I often find myself laughing more at her facial expressions in scenes when she's not talking in comparison to her fellow actors with lines. Nonetheless, she's created a number of memorable roles and impressions such as Penelope, the Target Lady, the woman who loves surprise parties, Suze Orman, and one of my personal favorites -- Judy Grimes, the neurotic travel advice gal on weekend update (the delivery is jaw-dropping). But this is all besides the point...

Perhaps I did take the movie too seriously; if anything, I was being overly critical of a flick that offered little we haven't seen before in countless other films, and to much better execution. I'm absolutely sure many will enjoy this movie, but as for me I was left wishing they could have crafted a story that blended the park environment with more entertaining characters to create something unique and memorable. Color me disappointed.

And as for Phantom's Revenge, it appears in only a few very brief background shots but almost out of necessity (as if the filmmakers knew the coaster didn't belong in the time period, but certain angles demanded it show up in the frame). If this movie had any kind of VFX budget, I suspect it would have disappeared completely in post.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 12:19 AM

Maybe that's my biggest issue when it comes to reviewing movies, the claim that "we've seen [whatever] before." There aren't many movies that don't share elements with things we've seen before, so I tend to not let that color my opinion.

I think Wiig is the female version of Fire Marshal Bill, twenty years later. Even Jim Carey realized that shtick would eventually get old! I think she's burning that candle at both ends.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 6:36 AM

I'll probably wait for the DVD.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 9:48 AM

skydivingjeff, did you like Superbad?

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Monday, March 30, 2009 10:05 AM

I was a big fan of Superbad. It had a fantastic story, with the three main characters going off on a variety of crazy adventures that all interweaved together at the end. Lots of humor, my only gripe being that it stretched a bit too long. I was hoping Adventureland would have been on the same level, but it never quite got there.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 11:09 AM

Sounds like I should be glad I opted for a documentary on Origami that my neighbor talked through at the film festival rather than Adventureland.

Last edited by robotfactory, Monday, March 30, 2009 11:11 AM
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Monday, March 30, 2009 11:17 AM

Ive just given up on going to any movie that is not a Pixar or a huge blockbuster (with great special effects) in a theater. Its just too expensive when I can just wait a few months and get it on Netflix. Now I only go to a theatre when I think that seeing it on a big screen will enhance my experience.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 11:43 AM

I value the theatrical experience too much. The theater closest to me is only five bucks for the first matinee, so we try to hit that.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 12:13 PM

^^Sounds a lot like the pricing for my local AMC obesieplex! ;)

Either way, I'm still seeing this movie...Hader is hilarious, Stewart is hot, it's at Kennywood (well, some scenes), and it's only $5...I'm not going to over-think this one!!

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Monday, March 30, 2009 12:21 PM

I too greatly value the theatre experience -- particularly the movie theatre popcorn experience. Perhaps the burnt, awful batch I got at the Regal I was forced to go to negatively affected my opinion. ;)

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Monday, March 30, 2009 12:38 PM

skydivingjeff, Wiig's multiple roles may be memorable but they are extremely similar. Cera is the same.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 1:12 PM

I tend to not put much stock into movie reviews. There have been movies that have gotten horrid reviews, but I have really enjoyed.

I never did understand the idea behind movie review shows. It's more like one persons opinion.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 1:37 PM

I never understood newspapers. It's more like one person's point of view.

(This is where you say touche. ;) )

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Monday, March 30, 2009 1:41 PM

skydivingjeff said:
I too greatly value the theatre experience -- particularly the movie theatre popcorn experience. Perhaps the burnt, awful batch I got at the Regal I was forced to go to negatively affected my opinion. ;)

So why don't you fess up and admit to everyone that you bring free refill bags in an go across town because you think one Cinemark has better popcorn than the closer one? Get it all out there, man! :)

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Monday, March 30, 2009 1:56 PM

I think im going to have to require SkydivingJeff to write reviews of all movies he sees (of course not on CB but somewhere). That review had me chuckling more than it appears the movie would have me do.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 3:43 PM

^^ Well in the interest of full disclosure then, sometimes I even bring my own salt shaker too! The popcorn towards the bottom of the bag won't salt itself, you know.

Besides, I wouldn't have even seen the movie had it not been for the lucky tub of popcorn I was carrying :)

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