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(2010) (Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday) (R)

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Comedy: As a young high school student tries to win over a girl and thus lose his virginity, he creates an imaginary, bad boy alter ego to motivate himself and impress her.
Nick Twisp (MICHAEL CERA) is a young high school student who lives with his mom, Estelle (JEAN SMART), and her good for nothing boyfriend, Jerry (ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), while his unemployed dad, George (STEVE BUSCEMI), lives elsewhere with his much younger trophy girlfriend, Lacey (ARI GRAYNOR). To complete Nick's odd world, neighbor Mr. Ferguson (FRED WILLARD) harbors illegal immigrants in his basement.

Except for his best friend, Lefty (ERIK KNUDSEN), Nick thinks he's the unluckiest guy in the world when it comes to girls and losing his virginity, but things unexpectedly look up when his mom and Jerry take him on an impromptu vacation. Arriving in a trailer park, Nick meets Sheeni Saunders (PORTIA DOUBLEDAY), a pretty girl whose worldly ways -- as is the case with her druggie brother, Paul (JUSTIN LONG) -- makes it seem as if she comes from different parents than her ultra-religious and conservative mom (MARY KAY PLACE) and dad (M. EMMET WALSH).

Despite her seemingly liking Nick, Sheeni informs him that she has a boyfriend, Trent (JONATHAN BRADFORD WRIGHT), something later confirmed by her classmate, Vijay (ADHIR KALYAN), who soon becomes Nick's close friend. Accordingly, Nick doesn't think he has much of a chance with Sheeni, but she seems to be leading him on, and thus when she suggests he should be bad, he concocts an alternate personality.

While Nick is the only one who can see French playboy Francois Dillinger (MICHAEL CERA), the aggressive sociopath leads Nick down a path of bad behavior, eventually drawing the ire of local cop Lance Wescott (RAY LIOTTA) who starts seeing Estelle once Jerry's out of the picture. From that point on, and as things go from bad to worse for Nick, he continues his hopeful quest of losing his virginity to Sheeni.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I don't know when they first appeared in fiction, but as a kid I remember enjoying watching cartoons where an angel and devil character would appear over respective shoulders of the main character. Obviously representing evil/temptation and good/morality, they tried to convince the confused protagonist that theirs was the better choice for him (it always seemed to be a male) to take. In most cases, the little devil initially succeeded, but the angel usually prevailed.

In the comedy "Youth in Revolt," the latter never makes an appearance, but the former is clearly present, albeit in a decidedly unconventional appearance. Rather than as a tiny, red-tinted, horned & tailed devil carrying a pitchfork, the temptation comes in the form of a French playboy stereotype by the name of Francois Dillinger (Michael Cera), a chain-smoking, pencil-mustached troublemaker in tight white pants and, appropriately enough, possessing a devil-may-care attitude.

He's the alter ego manifestation of the protagonist, Nick Twisp (also played by Cera), a high-schooler who, like many a teenage boy, has just one thing on his mind -- losing his virginity. Unfortunately for Nick, he's a bit of a dweeb and doesn't seem to stand a chance with the girl of his dreams, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), especially since she seems so confident and worldly in comparison to him.

Accordingly, when she tells him he should be bad like a 1960s era French movie character, that's when Francois shows up -- only visible to Nick in his imagination -- and sets him on a course of social deviance. Once that gets rolling, it then snowballs to ever greater heights (or depths, depending on one's view) of complications, all of which are designed to generate laughs, both of the raunchy and smart variety.

To my surprise (considering the over-used losing virginity plot and early January release date -- which is usually a dumping ground for bad films after all of the previous year's award hopefuls come out), it does tickle the funny bone to the point that the film comes off as a guilty pleasure. Yet, in hindsight, that may have been more of an "in the moment" reaction rather than one that holds while looking back at the film and examining its comedic offerings.

In any event, much of those laughs stem from how director Miguel Arteta -- working from Gustin Nash's adaptation of C.D. Payne's novel -- utilizes the charm and comedic timing of his star. Some will rightly argue that Cera pretty much ends up playing the same sort of character time and again, and that certainly applies to the dweeb half of his dual personality here. Then again, no one currently does that sort of character better than the 21-year-old actor, and he does have fun -- and elicits some decent laughs -- playing (and playing off) his alter ego manifestation.

Doubleday is the perfect cinematic epitome of a teenage boy's dream girl, alluring and tantalizing in her way of leading him on but then brushing him off just enough to drive him crazy. As far as the rest of the cast, the filmmakers have landed a decent array of performers -- Jean Smart, the suddenly hot Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long and veterans Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh -- but many are just extended and occasional cameos. Their characters' interactions with Cera's, however, do provide him with plenty of material with which to work and elicit laughs of various styles and intensities.

It may have been smart for Arteta to avoid going full force into black comedy (as that rarely works, at least consistently, in movies), but perhaps a few more touches of that might have given the film more of an edgy quality that it's sorely lacking. And I could have done without the brief stop-motion animation interludes that seem too obvious in their quest to call attention to the film's quirkiness and don't really mesh with the rest of the material.

If not for goofy charm that Cera effortlessly exudes and pours over his character (and thus draws viewers to him), this might have been a chore for many viewers to sit through, especially since the raunchy material associated with a teen's quest to lose his virginity is a well-worn cinematic path.

Yet, there are enough funny bits present to earn a slight recommendation for those looking for a slightly offbeat variation of such material. And no devil on my shoulder is making me write that. "Youth in Revolt" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 16, 2009 / Posted January 8, 2010

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