Friday, August 26, 2011

DVD Review: Super

Super **
Directed by: James Gunn.
Written by: James Gunn.
Starring: Rainn Wilson (Frank D'Arbo / The Crimson Bolt), Ellen Page (Libby / Boltie), Liv Tyler (Sarah Helgeland), Kevin Bacon (Jacques), Michael Rooker (Abe), Andre Royo (Hamilton), Sean Gunn (Toby), Stephen Blackehart (Quill), Don Mac (Mr. Range), Linda Cardellini (Pet Store Employee), Nathan Fillion (The Holy Avenger), Gregg Henry (Detective Felkner).

The past coupe of years has produced a number of movies about real people who decide to become superheroes. The best of the bunch is inarguably Kick Ass, which somehow managed the right mixture of humor, violence and drama to make an extremely entertaining movie. The Canadian film Defendor featured a great performance by Woody Harrellson as a mentally unbalanced man who decides to fight crime, but the film itself wasn’t up to him. Now comes James Gunn’s Super, which tries very hard to get the same tone as Kick Ass, but fails. The film is much too dark and violent to be truly funny, and yet too over the top to be taken seriously. Kick Ass walked a fine line - one that Super just cannot.

The film stars Rainn Wilson from The Office as Frank, a short order cook, who falls apart when his ex-addict wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) runs off with a sleazy drug dealer, Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Flipping through the channels on TV while in the depths of his depression, he comes across The Holy Avenger (played by Nathan Fillion), a religious superhero who helps teenagers defeat the evil demons of sexuality and unhealthy food. Looking for further research, Frank goes to the comic book store staffed by Libby (Ellen Page), to get tips on how a regular person can become a superhero. Soon he has transformed himself into The Crimson Bolt, and he is fighting crime wherever he finds it. His basic strategy is to jump out at people and hit them in the head with a wrench. It’s crude, but effective. His ultimate goal is to take down Jacques, but he warms up with low level drug dealers, pedophiles and even people who cut in line. Libby, who proves to be even more unbalanced that Frank, soon joins him - but is too far gone to be any help.

In Rainn Wilson, the film has its biggest asset. He can effortlessly play an everyman loser, and he does so quite well here. In his film roles, Wilson has tried to distance himself from Dwight from The Office, the role that made him famous. And here, memories of Dwight fade pretty quickly. Yes, both characters are losers, but in completely different ways. Here, you even feel a little bit sorry for Frank, who loses everything he cares about when Sarah leaves. As the movie progresses however, Frank becomes impossible to care about. He takes things way too far, becoming increasingly violent. I know that some of that violence is supposed to be entertaining comic book violence, but Gunn makes all too realistic. This is offset against Ellen Page’s wildly manic, over the top and completely unbelievable performance as Libby. I don’t necessarily blame Page for just how bad this performance is - she plays the role as written, and that is completely unhinged, emotionally imbalanced and psychotic dialed up to completely unrealistic proportions. And it seems like most of the rest of the cast followed Page’s lead, not Wilson’s, who at least tries to maintain some degree of believability. I normally like Kevin Bacon, but here, he never quite decides if he wants to be an over the top comic book villain, or a realistic bad guy. But at least he has a role, which is more than I can say for poor Liv Tyler, who spends most of the movie simply looking like a strung out junkie. It’s like Gunn forgot to write her a role.

Super will likely become a cut hit. His last movie, Slither, a horror-comedy about zombies and slithering aliens, was not quite successful, but showed promise, and was loved by a certain segment of the audience. Super will most likely do the same thing, But to me, the movie never quite finds the right tone. Super is all over the map, and for every moment that works there are at least one that completely fails. It all adds up to nothing much.

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