By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
First of all, I'm not a video gamer. I have discovered more appealing ways to not have a life. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is not a movie made for me, any more than Ramona and Beezus was. Actually, I share more in common with them than with Scott.
Having said that, sitting through Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is akin to visiting a friend who does play video games, and asking to take a stab at it. He gets wrapped up for two hours demonstrating more tricks than you'll ever need. You wonder when it's your turn. When it finally comes, playing isn't as much fun as you hoped it would be. Game and interest over.
I really wanted to like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (or SPVTW in geek shorthand). But I kept wondering when director Edgar Wright would let me play. This is a movie cleverly disguised as a video game, from the Universal Pictures fanfare in MIDI files mode to a closing countdown clock to "Continue?"
No, but thanks anyway.
Wright is an insanely funny filmmaker (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) yet only the front half of that description carries over to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Based on a series of graphic novels, the movie adopts many of the medium's traits: animated sound waves, screens split twice over and jump-cut continuations of conversations. And each time a telephone or doorbell rings Wright considerately superimposes "riinnngg" into the frame.
It is a hyperstylized environment for the glibly ironic misfits inhabiting this arcade movie. These are people for whom slacking sounds too ambitious, in an alt-world where slapping the bass to two-chord punk rock thrills chicks finding their identities in hair dye bottles. Old boyfriends (and one jilted girl) have superpowers, so love is something you fight for like Lara Croft. Coins rain when foes are defeated, and their souls float heavenward with a kill score.
Through it all Scott discovers who he is, and that's just Michael Cera again.
Cera plays the hero with his signature dorkiness and third-draft wisecracks. It's a tired routine, yet more affecting than any of the one-note avatars passing as characters around him. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Scott's crush, Ramona Flowers, wilts amid memories of Zooey Deschanel as a similar free spirit in (500) Days of Summer.
Wright creates impressively psycho fight scenes, and cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix) is a whiz at making those Nintendo dreams come true. But personal involvement with whomever is getting smacked around is sorely lacking, with only Ellen Wong as Scott's underage distraction being someone to care about.
No, this isn't my movie, and I'm certain that not loving Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will bring out the geeks who wish they attended Comic-Con, ready to flame that a young gamer should have reviewed it. Let's invalidate a few common anonymous insults right now: I don't have any meds to skip, I don't wear Depends and furthermore, get off my lawn.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.