Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Since the creation, there's always been a great fascination in the idea of a superhero.  Thanks to comics, movies, television, and the once in a lifetime real human incarnation, nothing settles the soul more so than one man (or woman) defeating evil.  Since the idea has come about, there's a million variations-- the ones with non-human powers and those mere mortals with extra chutzpah fighting truth and justice in that ultra, and positively American way.  Probably last thing this over-saturated culture needs is a parody.  There have many in recent years, like last year's Kick-Ass, then there's Super, written and directed by James Gunn, raising his middle finger plum in the air, a deranged and bloody comedy squarely aimed at the worshipful nerds so ingrained in superhero nostalgia.  He's also keenly aware of the grade-B, destined to play midnight shows for years to come, cheesy fun he's going for.  Gunn, who previously directed by sadly underrated horror schlocker Slither (2006), and screenwriter for the nerdishly salivated over Dawn of the Dead (2004); I'll forgo his affiliation with the awful Scooby-Doo movies, but he's playing to his peeps, and for long stretches Super is gleefully twisted.

Frank D'Arbo (Ranin Wilson) is an everyman schlub-- socially awkward, regularly humiliated-- pathetically living a fry cook's existence.  His saving grace is his marriage to Sarah (Liv Tyler.)  That is until a wily dochebag (Kevin Bacon) steals her away, prompting the already self esteem challenged Frank to spiral even more downhill.  What is he to do?  Well, a divine hallucination and addiction to Christian-based television show (featuring Nathan Fillion with a Jesus wig and tights), the only natural thing to do is fight crime and win back the gal he loves.  Dressed in a red suit that would make Kick-Ass seem most legitimate, and ironic catchphrases like, "Shut Up, Crime!," Wilson and Gunn are clearly having a ball setting the stage.  And while completely derivative, there's a loose energy, added by the fact that Frank is clearly a nutcase.  This may in fact be one of the few movies in recent memories where no character is particularly likable or overly cared about, yet there's still an odd affection for the show itself-- it's a cartoon, but such an over-the-top knowing cartoon, that whatever uneven plot device or lame joke is thrown around, the fact that it's all in super-sized quotation marks, it can't help but evoke giggles.

As Frank's alter ego, known as the The Crimson Bolt, gains local notoriety, a young girl-- a nerd herself working in a comic book shop named Libbie (Ellen Page) becomes ever more curious about the odd, socially awkward schlub rummaging her shop for ideas.  Libbie ingratiates herself so forwardly to Frank that eventually she becomes his "kid sidekick," and proves to be even more deranged than he is.  For a film that purposely lacks an emotional center, Page's performance is luminous in it's gamesmanship and ability to just go there, herself raising her middle finger squarely in the air in a spirit of thespianic impulsiveness.  Libbie really nothing more an ADD-filled sociopath looking to kill, and possibly fall for Frank.  She brings such an odd, and riotous sexuality to the film that feels intentionally forced, more than a tad creepy, but has the dynamism of a screen vixen.  Super becomes ridiculous super-charged with Page's appearance, and while that may be a lame pun, it's valid-- her vitality, and overly-charged energy remind us why in films like Hard Candy and Juno, she became so in demand.

The machinations of the plot matter little, in fact, not at all.  Bacon's having clearly having a ball hamming it up as the supreme root of all evil, while Tyler's presence evokes a calm, almost serene quality-- neither is particularly interesting.  We want to get to the blood, the violence hijinks, the Batman-inspired "POWs," and it comes.  There's a high body count, a tremendous amount of blood-- The Crimson Bolt's weapon of choice is a wrench, and a whack awaits drug dealers, child molesters, but is not limited to such violent perpetrators-- merely cutting in line at the movies will due.  And while Super may forever seem but a prankster's delight, with little intention of illumination or invention, there remains still that strange empathetic attraction to it.  B

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