Opposites clash at box office

Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"

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Ap Photo/Universal Pictures
Ap Photo/Universal Pictures
In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, Michael Cera is shown in a scene from "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World".

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 52 minutes

"The Expendables"

Millennium Films

1 hour, 43 minutes

If there are two true polar opposites in Hollywood, they'd have to be Michael Cera and Sylvester Stallone. Cera, the awkward, dorky object of affection for awkward, dorky girls everywhere, and Stallone, an ancient action vampire, feeding on the testosterone dreams of men and boys the world over. Cera is as scrawny and white-bread as the Italian Stallion is swarthy and gnarled with veiny muscles.

Who'dve guessed that these two disparate characters would release action movies on the same weekend? Crazy summer.

Scott Pilgrim may have started life as a character in a series of graphic novels, but he is completely embodied by Cera in an epic performance that combines a comedic haze of angsty malaise with some truly awesome fight scenes. The story careens along, taking on the tone of a fairy tale at times, but basically goes like this: Scott, a 22-year-old Toronto bass player in the garage band "The Sex Bob-ombs," has fallen in love with a high school girl named Knives Chau.

Things are going swimmingly -- chaste dinners, chaste video game playing, and lots of band practice, when our hero lays eyes on an amazing purple-haired beauty. Ramona Flowers, recently moved to town, has completely captured Scott's heart. Unfortunately for Mr. Pilgrim, he'll have more to deal with than a scorned teen with a name like Knives. He'll also have to contend with Ramona's "Seven Evil Exes," each more powerful than the last and each determined to destroy Scott Pilgrim.

What follows is an action-packed tour through a burgeoning relationship, all set to a driving indie soundtrack. There's a Vegan telepath, shape shifters, sonic dragons, and even an arrogant movie star with an army of stunt doubles. It's wild and hilarious, sweet and touching, and a great nostalgic throwback to the late 80s/early 90s video gaming heyday. Everything about the film is toned perfectly, from the graphics, to the music, to the sound and visual effects.

Aside from Cera, who's in nearly every scene of the film, the supporting cast is great, including a surprisingly grown-up performance from Kieran Culkin. I especially liked two superheroes in the line of evil exes -- "Superman's" Brandon Routh and "Captain America's" Chris Evans.

I went to see "Scott Pilgrim" at the 4 o'clock show, took about an hour for dinner, and then went to the 7 o'clock show of "The Expendables," Sylvester Stallone's casting stunt turned movie that had potential to be crazy nostalgic fun, but just ends up as tired as it's star appears to be.

I've been hearing about this movie for about a year now, the online film geek community freaking out at the chance to see a generation's worth of action stars all in one movie together. Stallone gathered Jet Li, Michael Statham, and Dolph Lundgren, along with professional fighters Steve Austin and Randy Couture, rounding it off with ex-footballer Terry Crews and ex-Hollywood pariah, Mickey Rourke.

The biggest coup, however, should have been a secret, but as it's all over the net, and even on some of the posters, I won't feel bad about spoiling it here. In one scene, Stallone is also joined by Bruce Willis and Arnold Swarzenegger, the three having never starred on-screen together, despite comprising the lion-share of action revenue for the past three decades.

The problem with this film is not the concept, which sounds kind of fun. I even wish Stallone, who wrote and directed the pic as well as starring in it, had gone one step further and secured Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme.

No, the problem is largely the script, which is fairly been-there, done-that, and includes some of the worst dialogue I've heard in years. There's a scene where Mickey Rourke, who has absolutely nothing to do besides sit around and look greasy, describes the horror of war and a life of regrets to an audience of muffled snickers.

As well, both Stallone and Jet Li just look tired. Li is only 47, but Stallone is almost 65. He's still ripped, but it just looks weird now, and I swear he was half-asleep through the entire production.

The "big scene" is a huge disappointment, with Arnie strolling in late, to get the proper entrance I assume. He and Stallone trade painfully written barbs, and then he strolls off.

"What's his problem?" asks Willis's Mr. Church, a shady financier of dirty deeds. "He wants to be President." jokes Stallone. Sigh. The scene is made even more awkward by Willis, who, realizing that he had only a few minutes and maybe four lines of dialogue to prove why he's Bad-A enough to warrant a cameo in this movie, turns on the anger, barking at Stallone, mercenary head of the titular "Expendables," for no apparent reason.

There's a plot, sure -- a renegade generalissimo in some tiny Latin American backwater is oppressing the people with the help of a sleazy rogue CIA agent, in the person of sleazy rogue actor Eric Roberts. But who really cares?

Sure, some of the action is good, and at times the film is even a little rousing, but mostly it's just old news, and all the big names in the world can't change that.

"Scott Pilgrim" is a far and away superior film, and in a perfect world, the critical drubbing it gave "The Expendables" would be matched at the box office. Unfortunately, this isn't a perfect world, and Stallone's crew predictably cleaned up at ticket counters across the country. We can hope that, even if it didn't burst out of the gate, "Pilgrim" can eventually with the race with stamina that the aging actioners just don't have.

And if not, who knows? Maybe this whole stunt casting thing will become a trend and we'll eventually get a middle-aged Michael Cera teamed up with a geriatric Stallone in a crazy, action-packed romantic comedy.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" -- Grade: A

"The Expendables" -- Grade: C

"Scott Pilgrim" is rated PG-13 for cartoon violence, language, and sexual references. "The Expendables" is rated R for graphic violence and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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