Adventureland
“Didn’t you date a vampire? What was that like?”

Theatrical Release Date: 04/03/2009
Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Martin Starr, Margarita Levieva

Trying to recapture fiscal lightning in a bottle, director Greg Mottola follows up “Superbad” with “Adventureland”. Apparently, Seth Rogen’s involvement had more to do with Mottola’s previous success than even I thought.

Unlike this film, I’m not going to waste your time – “Adventureland” is terrible. Not ten minutes into the film, I was fighting the instinct to jump out of my seat and get myself to the closest watering hole to drown my sorrows. The film is set in 1987 and that means that audiences will be treated to an awesome soundtrack, full of cheesy 80s goodness. However, aside from taking advantage of those tunes (which probably come at a lower cost than current tracks), there’s no reason to make the film a period piece. Maybe Mottola and company wanted to rehash their youth but it all felt like a cheap gimmick and I never felt the sincerity one should when dealing with such era-specific films.

I’ll begin the rest of my tirade with Jesse Eisenberg, the supposed star of the picture. His character is a complete pansy, unwilling to stand up for himself and resigned to accept punches to the groin from a childhood best friend whom he’s no longer friends with (no, it’s not worth explaining). After being forced to pick up a summer job to help pay for grad school (my rant about characters’ ages is coming), he lands a gig working as a carnie at the local Pittsburgh amusement park, Adventureland. There, he becomes entangled with a hot, emotionally distressed co-worker (Kristen Stewart).

For good measure, and to provide some screenwriting 101 conflict points, he also briefly courts another co-worker (Margarita Levieva) – who is also hot but more of a vapid tease than a bubbling cauldron of dysfunction like Stewart’s character. Comedy is supposed to ensue I suppose but I can only remember chuckling once and I’m not so sure that wasn’t because of the fast food I had consumed prior to the screening.

The story plods along like a toddler learning to walk. It’s clumsy and often awkward to see Eisenberg’s character fumble with relationships so poorly only to be rewarded by girls who in real life would do little more than mock him and walk off in the other direction. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand what was so great about him aside from his uber-passivity that was misconstrued as understanding and compassion. His performance made me think that one could run over his dog, cook it, serve it to him for lunch and then tell him about it – all without fear of a retribution worse than a mumbled plea or crying fit.

Thrown into the mix is Ryan Reynolds, as the amusement park’s handi-man of all things. I realize that he’s the go-to cameo comedy guy right now but even I thought he had better instincts than this one. I can only hope his deal with the producers included a lot of fringe benefits because this isn’t a film that should be included on his reel. The script and direction are so clueless as to how to handle his character than although he’s an adulterous letch, you still don’t care about it. Normally, when a character acts as his does, the audience should feel outrage or disgust. I was just thinking about how much I’d rather be watching any of his other films (even “Blade Trinity).

If there is one decent acting performance, it comes from Kristen Stewart (Her involvement with “Twilight” might have had a lot to do with the studio finally releasing this film – which began shooting in October of 2007 and for that I’m not happy). Nevertheless, Stewart effectively portrays a confused young woman, angry about her father’s remarriage and unsure how to navigate intimate relationships. If there was anything keeping my butt in the seat, it was her performance and my own savior complex that bubbled up as a result.

Of course, it’s not too surprising to me that she nailed the part … because it’s the SAME PART she’s played in every film I’ve ever seen of hers. I don’t mean to sound too harsh, as it’s a role she’s gotten down pat and I’d rather see a good performance from her utilizing a repetitious archetype than to see an actress fumble with the part. However, I’d still really like to see her attempt some new ground as an actress and that’s definitely not the case here.

Getting back to a previous point about the character’s ages, it felt like they were all 17 but everyone was ordering alcohol and driving afterwards so between that and a few of the characters mentioning college/grad school, I was able to keep reminding myself that they were of age. The drinking and driving element is so blatant that I’m not sure why MADD representatives aren’t out in force decrying this film’s reckless nature – though I applaud them for staying away because even bad publicity can only help this film at the box office (and I wish for a speedy exit from theaters in this case).

Adding to this film’s laundry list of failures, you know it’s not a good sign when there’s a problem with the screening, the audio goes out for a few minutes between reel changes, and you’re praying that the film will just have to be stopped. Sadly, the projectionist on duty was able to rectify the situation and the audience (and most importantly, myself) was forced to bear witness to the final fifteen minutes of the film as our young lovers find a way to reconnect. If you think I spolied the ending, good. Maybe then you won’t spend your money on this drivel.

I’m being generous because of my own hang-ups regarding Kristen Stewart and will award “Adventureland” a 1 out of 5. Make no mistake, this is a film to be missed … and missed hard. If you’re looking for comedy, you’re better off with a documentary about animal shelters. This film is far more about angst ridden young adults passing the time with alcohol, drugs and sex … which would normally be entertaining or titillating at worst but Mottola couldn’t even muster that much out of this.

The only possible redeeming factor that could come of watching “Adventureland” is to come in from the rain or escape a bitterly cold day … assuming you’re homeless and have nowhere else to go … of course, at that point, you’re better off spending your $10 on food and taking shelter in the culinary establishment that traded its wares for your cash. Yeah, it’s that kind of bad … one might almost say it was “Superbad” … sorry, I couldn’t resist.