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

“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

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

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

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.