No doubt the title is intended ironically, but still—pretty much the last word you’d ever use to describe Adventureland would be “adventurous.” Dutifully hitting every single item on the coming-of-age-comedy checklist, the film follows the painfully familiar exploits of Pittsburgh post-grad James (Eisenberg) over the course of one fateful summer, during which he’s trapped working a dead-end job at the local amusement park. Like every such protagonist, James, who’s still a virgin, is primarily looking to get laid, and he quickly falls hard for fellow games-booth lackey Em (Stewart), who returns his affection but is also mired in a destructive relationship with Adventureland’s married handyman, Connell (Reynolds). Various romantic complications that will be instantly resolved come the final reel ensue. Distractions arrive in the form of a wisecracking nerdy best friend (Martin Starr), a hotcha bubblehead (Margarita Levieva) who takes an inexplicable interest in our hero and approximately 17,000 carefully chosen songs to remind us that this story is taking place in 1987.
Why 1987? Presumably because that’s when writer-director Mottola (Superbad), born in 1964, would have been about James’ age. But despite the Hüsker Dü and Replacements tracks, Adventureland never seems rooted to that particular moment in history—put different clothes on the actors and hand them all cell phones and it could easily be set just last week. Nor does Mottola, who worked at an amusement park himself during college, take much advantage of this unique milieu, apart from one good joke about how nobody patronizing the ring-toss game is ever allowed to win the coveted “giant-ass panda.” (Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who play the park’s managers, seem to think that they’re in a different, much broader movie.) The film chugs along pleasantly enough, with no egregiously bad moments, and is clearly heartfelt. But it’s also utterly devoid of inspiration, especially compared to a nostalgia trip as impassioned, quotable and ultra-specific as, say, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. Write what you know, sure, but don’t forget to make it interesting.