Aug. 13 2010 12:00 AM

Love is truly a battlefield in hilarious


    We live in a world of pop-culture references, some old, some
    new. Check your Twitter feed: You’re as likely to find comments about a 1980s
    band or a 1990s TV series as you are discussions about the significance of the
    spinning top of “Inception” or the cultural impact of Pop-Tart Sushi.



    For unemployed Toronto native Scott Pilgrim, however, the
    world really is pop culture. Not only does he live in an environment that looks
    exactly like a comic book — every time his phone rings, an animated
    “R-I-I-I-N-G!” floats through the air; little commentaries and asides
    constantly materialize around him and his friends, just like VH1’s “Pop-Up
    Video” show — he is frequently plunged into frenzied fights that play out like
    a mad mash-up of “Mortal Kombat,” “Super Mario Brothers” and “Double Dragon.”


    scott_pilgrim.jpgSuch is the painful price of passion in director Edgar
    Wright’s hilarious, highly stylized “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World,” adapted from
    Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular series of graphic novels. Scott (Michael Cera), an
    unlikely warrior if ever there was one, must learn the hard way that love is a
    (video game) battlefield as he pursues the ravishing, seductively sullen Ramona
    Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and confronts a “league of evil exes,” each
    of them a former flame of Ramona’s and each of them eager to make Scott, as
    Jane Fonda used to say in her 1980s workouts, “feel the burn.”

    Wright, whose previous gems include “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and the
    hysterically funny fake trailer “Don’t!” that was one of the highlights of
    “Grindhouse,” establishes the atmosphere immediately by transforming the
    Universal logo into a blocky, low-tech graphic that looks like it might have
    come from an Atari 2600 game.


    Scott and his friends — including an embittered
    ex-girlfriend (Alison Pill), who’s the drummer for his band Sex Bob-omb and
    seems to have been born to snarl — live in the Toronto neighborhood of
    Bathurst, which is portrayed as an environment akin to the “Peanuts” comic
    strip: Actual adults are all but invisible. Scott’s scene is slightly more
    sophisticated than anything Charlie Brown ever imagined, though. Wallace
    (Kieran Culkin), Scott’s sardonic roommate, is gay, jaded and sex-crazed,
    albeit in a world-weary way; almost every one of his remarks begins or ends
    with a seen-it-all sigh. Sex Bob-omb is not getting any play on Much Music;
    instead, the group is stuck performing in venues like The Rockit (“Fun fact:
    This place is a toilet,” a superimposed title tells us).


    Meanwhile, Scott is very slowly recovering from having been
    seduced and abandoned by Envy Adams (Brie Larson) — Canada’s answer to Britney
    Spears — by hanging out with Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a high school student
    who has devoted herself to the relationship in that special/scary way only a
    teenager can. One look at American emigree Ramona’s irresistible Bette Davis
    eyes and otherworldly neon-cherry hair, however, and Scott is instantly
    smitten.


    “I feel like I’m on drugs when I’m with you,” he tells
    Ramona on their first date. “Not that I’m on drugs. Unless you are. In which
    case I do drugs all the time.”


    Forget “Sleepless in Seattle”; this is “Tongue-Tied in
    Toronto.”


    While Wright surrounds the rocky romance with a virtual
    tornado of split-screen effects, in-jokes and witty lines (there’s even a joke
    about Uma Thurman’s “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”; now there’s something you don’t
    see referenced every day), “World” ultimately turns on its sharp
    characterizations. Cera’s earnest awkwardness in the face of fierce competition
    is completely disarming, and Winstead brings a fascinating sense of solemnity
    to Ramona, a woman who shields her heart behind quirky quips and a
    well-practiced bad attitude. The promiscuous gay pal is now a well-worn
    stereotype, but Culkin impressively plays against expectations, turning Wallace
    into a very funny, highly observant — and slightly demented — gossipy guardian
    angel.


    The Evil Exes also emerge as amusing personalities,
    particularly a peroxide-soaked Brandon Routh as an all-powerful vegan with a
    few dirty secrets and Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, an insufferable superstar with
    the cockiness of a young Clint Eastwood and the immaculate grooming of Tom
    Cruise.


    Ridiculously entertaining and visually dazzling, “World”
    inspires the same impulse as a great video game: As soon as it’s over, you’ll
    want to press the “reset” button and play it again.