Greg Mottola’s picture takes its title from the run-down Pittsburgh amusement park around which its plot is set, and surprisingly, from the director of the raucous “Superbad,” “Adventureland” feels a little run-down itself. Yet another quirky coming-of-age tale, it’s amiable enough but rather lackadaisical, and generates neither the laughs nor the insight needed to set it apart from the pack.
Set in the summer of 1987, Mottola’s script centers on James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college grad whose plans to travel to Europe with his rich classmate and then go to Columbia’s grad school in the fall are scuttled when his father, an alcoholic, is demoted at work. Forced to get a summer job and finding that his lit degree qualifies him for nothing, he becomes part of the apathetic staff at the park run by the goofy husband-and-wife team of Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig).
James is an overeducated, nerdy fellow (and still a virgin, of course) whose life is, predictably, changed by his summer experiences. He develops a friendship with older co-worker Joel (Martin Starr), an erudite but scruffy guy who’s unlucky in love. Even more importantly, he gets close—platonically, that is—to free-spirited Em (Kristen Stewart), with whom he shares his store of weed. What he doesn’t realize is that the girl has domestic troubles: not only is she stuck with a horrible stepmother and oblivious father, but she’s having an affair with smooth operator Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the park’s married maintenance man. And the plot thickens further when sexpot Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) shows an interest in James, too.
These are agreeable characters for the most part (even if James is initially pretty irritating, he grows on you), and many have occasional moments of insight and humor. But there aren’t enough of them. Generally “Adventureland” just mopes along in much the same way as its protagonist, remaining stuck in low gear. Of course, it has its share of coarse humor—slackerdom does provide ample openings for jokes about drugs and alcohol, and there are the usual low blows to the crotch, as well as several upchuck sequences. But it’s more restrained than in many pictures of this ilk. And naturally the movie gets more hyper toward the close, when James finds out about Em’s assignations with Mike and gets his dander up, and later decides that his rejection of her was a mistake and takes off, “Graduate”-like, to rectify it. But after the relative sedateness that’s preceded, that seems to have been trucked in from a different picture entirely.
Within this context, Eisenberg does as well as could be expected with James. The angular, somewhat whiny actor actually makes the character moderately likable, if not really endearing, by the close. Stewart is solid as Em, and with his scruffily hangdog appearance Starr gets some chuckles as Joel, as do Wiig and Hader as the slightly daffy park owners. Others, however, are less lucky. Levieva is arch, Reynolds is his usual smarmy self, and Matt Bush, as James’s dumbbell best friend, starts out annoying and stays in that mode throughout. (You want to strangle him, and wonder why somebody doesn’t.)
Maybe it’s part of Mottola’s directorial vision that his pictures should look kind of grubby—certainly “Superbad” did—and if so, cinematographer Terry Stacey has certainly done his job; the picture makes Pittsburgh appear a pretty dumpy town. But to be fair, the lackluster visuals are complemented by a snappy score of pop songs cobbled together by music supervisor Tracy McKnight, which should make for a desirable CD.
More so than the DVD, I’m afraid.