Based on a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a movie with ADD and a lapsed Ritalin prescription. That’s not particularly a bad thing.
The film moves as fast as a bullet train, crackles with wit and has enough hipster references to snag an invite to an MTV after-party. There are nods to arcade games, comic books, rock music and the like. There is visual invention, some laughs — and ultimately, an exhaustion borne from overkill.
Whether this high-flying mash-up yields anything more than a slightly pleasant buzz likely depends on your tolerance for watching video games. A lot of the action in “Scott Pilgrim” finds the title character on a hero’s journey that makes “Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3″ look emotionally complex by comparison.
Scott is a 22-year-old slacker living in Toronto and playing bass for a middling garage rock band, Sex-Bob-omb (a “Super Mario Bros.” reference). As played by Michael Cera (“Youth in Revolt”), Scott has a little-lost-lamb veneer masking youthful self-absorption. Rebounding from being dumped by an up-and-coming pop singer, he is feeding his ego with an adoring high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong).
The nookie-free relationship is a source of disgust for Scott’s bandmates, disapproving younger sister (Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”) and acerbic gay roommate (Kieran Culkin, “Igby Goes Down”), especially since Knives is so smitten with the older lothario that tiny purple valentines literally float from her lips when she professes her love.
Scott then meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Live Free or Die Hard”), whose manga-friendly eyes and ever-changing hair color speak to a mysterious allure. The two go out, and Scott learns just how high-maintenance a girlfriend Ramona is, in that he will have to do battle with seven evil exes if they are to be a couple.
Narrative isn’t really the point here. Writer/director Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”) is more interested in filling the margins of this caffeinated coming-of-age tale with the visual language of comics and gamers. Words like “ka-pow” and “boom” take literal form. Tangential asides appear in pop-ups and bubbles. Scott’s vanquished foes explode in a shower of coins.
It’s tempting to interpret all these cinematic bells and whistles as something provocative about how we process life in our media-saturated age, but sometimes a cigar, to borrow a phrase attributed to Freud, is just a cigar. Or a Sega, as the case might be. In any case, what begins as inspired whimsy grows wearisome, and it becomes virtually impossible to care about our hero or his plight.
Cera doesn’t help this Pilgrim’s progress. Thankfully, he is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, especially Culkin and Alison Pill (“Milk”), while Chris Evans (“The Losers”) and Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”) have memorable turns as evil ex-boyfriends.
But Cera never quite gels as the self-satisfied gamer. He is at his most mannered here, a gangly grab bag of sheepish and stammering vapidity. Cera has demonstrated a knack for comedy many times, but the joke is beginning to wear thin. —Phil Bacharach