(CNN) -- With "Superbad," producer Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin") has created another cockeyed hit.
In "Superbad," Michael Cera (left) and Jonah Hill (right) go in search of a teen's holy grail: booze and sex.
The hilarious film offers a younger skew on what must be labeled the Apatow house brand of touchy-feely sex comedy -- in other words, more extreme profanity and juvenile gross-out gags. But all that doesn't make "Superbad" bad. Far from it -- this is the funniest picture since "Borat," and more emotionally nuanced than you would expect.
Not that you would expect much in that line, I imagine. Penned by "Knocked Up" star Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg when they were still in high school, "Superbad" has what screenwriting gurus call a "quest" narrative: through a combination of chance and opportunism, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera, from "Arrested Development") are entrusted with securing the alcohol for an end-of-term party.
"You know how when girls sleep with guys, they always say it was an accident?" reasons Seth, optimistically. "We could be that accident!" Watch Cera and Hill offer tales from the film »
His plan hinges on their even nerdier pal Fogell (unheralded comedy superhero Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Fogell has a fake ID lined up. Trouble is, when this document materializes, it carries only the single name "McLovin," officially a 25-year-old organ donor from the Aloha State.
Undeterred, brave "McLovin" ventures into a liquor store, only to get caught up in an attempted robbery. In the movie's quirkiest detour he spends most of the evening cruising in a patrol car with two unexpectedly paternal, party-hearty cops (Rogen and Bill Hader). Meanwhile, Seth and Evan gamely try to parlay a traffic accident into hard booze.
Anyone even remotely schooled in teen comedy will recognize that "Superbad" is an old, old story, albeit one that seems unreasonably determined to lower the taste bar. Each generation throws up a coming-of-age comedy to call its own, whether it's "American Graffiti" or "American Pie," and there are equal parts of both here. Fogell could be the son (or the grandson) of Charles Martin Smith's Terry the Toad from the Lucas film. (There's also a blast of the Bar-Kays' "Soul Finger" on the predominantly funk soundtrack.)
Mostly, though, we're reminded that Seth Rogen's association with Judd Apatow goes all the way back to the cult NBC series "Freaks and Geeks" when he was 16. "Superbad" could be an R-rated episode from that show.
Although it takes place over 24 hours or so, the film's period is a bit hazy. These geeks don't talk about sports. They don't talk about music or movies (hardly) ... or politics (as if!). They certainly don't talk about whatever it is they're learning in high school (in Seth's case, apparently, not much). Sometimes they talk about girls. But that's just an important but not vital adjunct to the real Topic A: the penis.
The male sex organ and its potential applications are contemplated endlessly, inside and out, with Seth and Evan turning ideas over in their minds with the same mixture of curiosity, creativity and awe scientists dedicate to quantum physics and basketball fans reserve for the career of Steve Nash.
Of course such overheated bravado is utterly transparent. Seventeen-year-old virgins, they are distressingly ignorant when it comes to the opposite sex and terrified of the mystery that lurks there.
Directing his first feature since the indie gem "The Daytrippers," Greg Mottola takes care to ground the improbable plot in a realistic, low-rent neighborhood and authentic characterizations. If the guileless Mintz-Plasse steals the show, Cera and Hill play off each other beautifully. The intentionally and hilariously anti-climactic ending crystallizes the movie's fairly subtle emotional subtext. Soon it will be time to put aside childish things, and for Seth and Evan, this includes each other.