August 13, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' -- GRADE: B+

Review: 'Scott Pilgrim' dazzles with its nerd-on-steroids approach

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) taps superhero powers when, while trying to win the heart of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he incurs the wrath of her evil exes. (Universal Pictures)

Geeks, rejoice. Scott Pilgrim is here to save your soul.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" may be the first full-on video game, comic book, rock 'n' roll nerd epic. It's a razzle-dazzle compendium of quick-draw humor, superhero stunts and gamer references wrapped around a teen dream love story, starring -- who else? -- Michael Cera, the first genuine nerd superstar.

With his spaghetti arms, near-chinless face and unruly mop of hair, Cera might not be the guy you'd expect to see winning smash-pow punch-outs. But that's exactly the point. If a gangly dork like Cera can be a superhero and win the cool girl, well, so can you.

Scott Pilgrim lives a somewhat spartan life in Toronto. He shares a one-room apartment and a mattress on the floor with his gay best friend Wallace (Kieran Culkin, smirking nicely). He's dating a sweet Chinese high school girl named Knives Chau (an ebullient Ellen Wong). And he plays bass in a rock band no one's ever heard.

Then one day he encounters a purple-haired beauty named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and it's love at first sight -- sorry, Knives -- even if it takes Ramona a while to come around. But when she does, Scott finds out that dating Ms. Flowers is a dangerous proposition, since every one of her seven exes is destined to show up and battle Scott.

And we're not talking simple brawls here. Each of the exes is something of a supervillain. Luckily, it turns out that Scott has some super strengths of his own.

The action -- and much of the movie, including the introductory Universal Studios theme song -- is modeled on old-style Nintendo games, most obviously "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat."

But director and co-writer Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead") is drawing on all sorts of gamer and comic book visuals, all while keeping a veritable quirk-joke firefight going on. Most of this is drawn directly from the original graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

The ever-so-hip casting works as well, including Alison Pill as Scott's acerbic red-haired drummer ex, Chris Evans (the future Captain America) as a skater turned movie star, Brandon Routh as an ex whose powers are the result of a vegan diet and countless others.

It's a hectic-electric bundle of fun, no getting around it; but there are some missteps. The over-cooked visuals are occasionally overdone -- every time a phone rings "RIIINNGG" is spelled out on screen -- and as spectacular as it all looks, there's nothing really beyond that. Thematically, the film is precisely as empty as a videogame.

Beyond that, Winstead is seriously miscast, or misplayed, as Ramona Flowers. She's the center of all this fighting and mayhem, yet there's no sizzle to the character beyond hair color changes.

That said, the film is still a bonanza of invention, and Wright has fashioned a pinball game of a movie that's bound to become a cult classic.

Holding it all atop his spindly shoulders, of course, is Cera, whose guileless sincerity and fearless sense of comic timing -- you buy him as both hero and buffoon -- are perfectly silly.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" may take a certain amount of pop-culture immersion to make any sense. If you've never played a video game, the ending will be incomprehensible, as will many things along the way.

But at this point, it's a videogame-punk music-comic book life for a lot of people. If you're one of them, Scott Pilgrim will rock your world.

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Nerd superstar Michael Cera finds strength in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the ... (Universal Pictures)
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