A summer away from college, a seasonal amusement-park job and a little romance — the ingredients of yet another "coming of age" dramedy, one that allows Kristen Stewart to try out her newfound Twilight fame.
But Adventureland isn't really about her or her character. Stewart plays Em, the sleepy-eyed dreamboat that James (Jesse Eisenberg) takes a tumble for at a cheesy amusement park in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. This is a gullible lad's "growing up" tale, and not the first.
It has the makings of a magical 1980s summer — except that James' dad (Jack Gilpin) just got demoted and has started drinking and Mom (Wendie Malick) is puncturing his dreams of a paid-for grad school education. The amusement park is Adventureland, a D-list attraction where James is low man on an already low totem pole — he runs the "fixed" shooting gallery and ring-toss games.
And the mysterious Em, girl of his virginal dreams, is flirty and friendly. But Em is seeing, on the sly, the married, hunky guitar-playing park handyman Mike (Ryan Reynolds), a guy who supposedly once jammed with Lou Reed.
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Writer-director Greg Mottola (Superbad) errs on the side of sweet with this one, peopling his cast with oddballs such as Frigo (Matt Bush), the kid who has picked on James since childhood, and the gum-snapping hottie Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), who likes to lead boys on. And there are the dopes (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig of Saturday Night Live) who manage the park, and Joel (Martin Starr), the nerd's nerd, an insider who explains why James' check is so small.
"We are doing the work of crazy morons."
But Mottola goes off message and off humor with his ham-fisted attempts to jam anti-Semitism into this '80s tale of big hair, Rock Me Amadeus and a lad mildly interested in losing his virginity. It's nice that Mottola wanted to go for something other than simple Summer Lovin', but anti-Semitism? Dude.
Stewart is a beguiling, worldly yet gullible object of desire. Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) has a knack for playing the smart, vulnerable kid. James can quote Latin but can't close the deal with a girl.
"As Virgil said, 'Audentes fortuna iuvat — fortune favors the bold.'"
Sadly, Adventureland is anything but bold. Not that Superbad was all that ambitious, but at least its pace and jokey edge made it work. The only adventure here will be for kids too young to know what "coming of age" means. And they can't get into an R-rated movie.