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'Adventureland' lacks originality, but knows how to work '80s magic

By STEVE PERSALL

Times Film Critic

Boring summer jobs are timeless, raising the question of why writer-director Greg Mottola thinks the 1980s slackers in Adventureland are so special.

Take away the bad hairstyles and a soundtrack crammed with that decade's one-hit wonders, and Mottola's movie is just a new recipe for Meatballs. Nothing wrong with that, except Bill Murray was busy and nobody picks up the comedy slack.

Adventureland is just another excuse for '80s progenies to believe nothing of pop culture consequence happened before or after their rites of passage. No other generational subset ever loved and lost, fretted over virginity, got sucker punched in the groin, hated working or smoked weed before or since, I guess.

Mottola covered this territory present-day and funnier in Superbad, but took a gentler approach here that borders on blind nostalgia for John Hughes movies. Adventureland mostly neglects the timelessness of raunch, focusing on sweet romance with soap opera subtexts. If nothing else, it may be remembered by some Twilight tweens as their first R-rated movie, since Kristen Stewart does her morose romantic routine again.

Stewart plays Em, a returning summertime employee of Adventureland (actually Pittsburgh's famed Kennywood Park). Em shares a secret affair with rides mechanic Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a married older man and local music legend, at least in his own mind. We know Connell is using her, but there would be even less movie if Em realized that.

Perhaps she could find happiness with James (Jesse Eisenberg), a park rookie earning money to pay for college after his father is laid off. James is bright and sincere, with that Michael Cera kind of geeky charm. Em and James are made for each other, so Mottola piles on emotional challenges and unrelated, lowbrow episodes to keep them apart.

Some distractions work well: Saturday Night Live stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig nail their scenes as the park's owners, overestimating the prestige of that status and expecting their recalcitrant employees to agree. James is stuck at Adventureland's lowest rung, operating carny games below his intelligence, leading to nicely sarcastic dialogue.

His best friend Joel (Martin Starr) is an amusing nerd, smoking a pipe to appear mature while serving as an immature confidante.

The soundtrack is definitely worth downloading by '80s enthusiasts, ranging from the Replacements and Lou Reed to Rock Me, Amadeus overkill on the park's public address system. Mottola often leans on music, when his script can't deliver anything worth hearing. Aside from the fact that Connell isn't spotted as a sexual predator and fired, music is Adventureland's most genuine 1980s touch.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

Review

Adventureland

Grade: C+

Director: Greg Mottola

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Margarita Levieva, Martin Starr

Screenplay: Greg Mottola

Rating: R; profanity, sexual references, drug abuse

Running time: 107 min.

'Adventureland' lacks originality, but knows how to work '80s magic 04/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 4:30am]
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