Reel to Video: Video Game Marketing Goes Big Screen

City Pulse | August 10, 2010
Reel to Video

Video Game Marketing Goes Big Screen

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (551 words)

By Cole Smithey

Cinema of the eternally pubescent hits a new low with director/co-writer Edgar Wright's adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel. Wright (director of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz") trades in his hard-earned street credentials for a flagrant sell-out move that promises a reverse transformation from film to video game. Pigeon-holed geek Michael Cera reneges on his threat to retire from acting as Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year-old Toronto serial-dater of underage girls who plays bass in a woefully chic garage band called "Sex Bob-Omb." Scott gets inspired to box within his romantic weight-class when he meets toxic do-wrong-girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Perpetually masquerading in florescent-colored hair dye, the Ramona character is an obvious knock-off of the bi-polar trollop that Kate Winslet played in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

In order to carry on with his life, much less spend quality time with fickle Ramona, Scott must de facto restore Ramona's tattered virginity by battling her seven former lovers. The filmmakers attempt to camouflage the story's clear video-game aspirations with mugging asides from Scott's oh-so-precious band mates and his fashionably gay roommate (Kieran Culkin doing his best Robert Downey Jr. impression), with whom Scott sleeps in the same bed. Don't ask. Scott's bandmate and former girlfriend Kim (Alison Pill) maintains a constant maniacal glare to show her disapproval of Scott's childish romantic behavior. The actors don't "act" so much as pose with expressionless poker-faces.

In referencing Kurt Vonnegut with its use of the last name of the author's "Slaughterhouse-Five" protagonist Billy Pilgrim, the movie seems to promise some amount of time-shifting social criticism. But it would be a stretch to infer any amount of commentary other than some forced idea that romantic conquest is like a video game.

Scott's 17-year-old Asian girlfriend "Knives" (Ellen Wong) is more of a personal groupie than a romantic interest. Her sycophantic presence is only somewhat less annoying than Ramona's because she at least seems to have a genuine attraction to the ethically challenged Scott.

Redundant complacency sets in with Scott being randomly attacked in public places by Ramona's "evil exes." Pop art styled words like "WHUD" and "CRASH" shatter and blur across the screen during the comic book fight scenes as an off-kilter homage to the '60s "Batman" television series. Kitschy graphics announce things like the level of Scott's bladder as he pees, and the filmmakers wallow in spastic editing and cutesy split-screen visuals to the point of distraction. Quick-flip flashback character introductions for Ramona's exes (that include Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman) means that no investment of empathy is demanded of the audience. The mechanical scenario does raise a question about what in Scott's passive/aggressive personality connects him to Ramona's daisy-chain of violent romantic partners, that includes one goth-influenced lesbian. Scott's beef isn't with "the World." It's with his own masochistic need for emotional, physical, and psychological abuse.

At best, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is a backwards attempt at disinformation, encouraging a logic of poor character judgment for its intended teen audience. At worst, it is exactly what it appears, a cynical marketing campaign for a video game.

Rated PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references. 112 mins. (Universal Pictures)
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