SXSW 2011: Super

Making an irreverent superhero movie in a post “Kick-Ass” world is a risky undertaking, although not a completely futile one. While Matthew Vaughn set the bar pretty high, and the comparisons are inevitable for any film that follows in its footsteps, it’s not the definitive superhero comedy by any stretch. Unfortunately, James Gunn’s “Super” squanders the chance to one-up “Kick-Ass” by wasting so much energy overcoming its own self-inflicted problems to ever be better than mediocre. There’s a lot of wasted potential on display, but thanks to a hilariously unhinged performance from Ellen Page, “Super” manages to rise above its drastically uneven tone to deliver an amusing, if admittedly flawed, superhero black comedy.

Rainn Wilson stars as Frank D’Arbo, a pathetic sad-sack who confesses in the opening minutes of the film that he’s only had two good things ever happen in his life: marrying recovering drug addict Sarah (Liv Tyler) and assisting the police in the arrest of a bank robber. So when his wife leaves him for a sleazy drug dealer named Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank becomes an emotional wreck and turns to God for advice on what to do next. After he has a religious epiphany about devoting his life to fighting evil, Frank starts cleaning up the streets as the vigilante alter ego, Crimson Bolt, armed only with a wrench. But when Jacques uncovers his secret identity and puts a bounty on his head, Frank must team up with a quirky comic book store clerk named Libby (Page) to take the fight to the bad guys and rescue Sarah.

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Fans of Gunn’s previous work will be ecstatic to see so many familiar faces populating the film, including Michael Rooker as Jacques’ right-hand man, Gregg Henry as a police detective hot on the Crimson Bolt’s trail, and even Gunn himself. But the best cameo has to be Nathan Fillion, who appears as a religious superhero TV character called the Holy Avenger in an obscure but comical reference to “Bible Man.” Fillion doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but his character nonetheless plays a pivotal role in the influence that faith has on Frank’s decision to fight crime. Kevin Bacon also has lots of fun hamming it up as the slimy drug dealer, and Rainn Wilson shows genuine flashes of emotion in the lead role, but “Super” simply wouldn’t be as much fun without Ellen Page’s off-the-wall performance – especially when she’s running around the city as the Crimson Bolt’s sidekick, Boltie, who finds a slightly disturbing joy in all the violence.

But while “Super” makes the most of its edgy premise at times, it suffers from an inconsistent tone that bounces between a serious drama, a dark comedy, and a goofy B-movie in the spirit of Gunn’s Troma films. He doesn’t seem to know what kind of film he wants to make, so he’s just thrown elements of all three into the pot and stirred with reckless abandon. It’s also sluggishly paced and poorly written in some areas, with Gunn’s script reading more like the fantasies of a horny teenage comic book geek than the guy behind “Slither” and “Dawn of the Dead.” Still, even with all of its flaws (of which there are plenty), “Super” has enough going for it that fans of the genre will eat it up.

  

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The Scream Awards go down the rabbit hole (updated)

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There was a time in this world when young people were frequently slightly ashamed of being bigger than average fans of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and especially comic books. I, personally, wasn’t embarrassed …and I paid a price. Those days may be over. In any case, the capacity crowd that showed up for Spike TV’s Scream awards, largely in costume and largely dramatically over- or under-dressed for a nighttime outdoor show after a very warm day, seemed more like club kids and less like the kind of uber geeks who become entertainment bloggers and film critics and stuff like that.

The Scream Awards are, in their fun/silly way, a big deal. Big enough to attract a good number of stars and even a few superstars like Tobey Maguire, Jessica Alba, Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp and his living legend “Pirates of the Caribbean” muse, Rolling Stone Keith Richard.

I, however, am not such a big deal and was reminded of that fact when, prior to the show I found myself with the less fashionable members of the not-quite paparazzi on the “red carpet” (actually a checkered walkway) with my little digital camera and even smaller digital recorder device, wondering whether I’d really get a chance to ask a question of one of the super-famed folks, knowing that the only question I could think of at the time would be something in the nature of “What’s it like be the most notorious rock and roll star in the world, having your blood changed, and snorting your late father’s ashes?” That probably would have been inappropriate, especially if I asked it of Jessica Alba.

What actually seems to happen at events like this is that, if you’re a small-timer especially, most of the big stars either go through another entrance or walk right by you at warp speed. Meanwhile, folks who are a bit more anxious to meet the press find their way to you with the help of PR types. As an example, for about half a second, I was almost able to talk with actor Karl Urban, who did such a great job homaging DeForest Kelly while putting his own hilarious stamp on “Bones” McCoy in “Star Trek.” However, within a nanosecond he remembered he was in a big hurry and politely scurried off.

After a few odd reality show people I didn’t recognize, and the pretty young actress who assays the part of “Female Addict” in “Saw VI,” our first actual notable was statuesque model turned actress Tricia Helfer. Helfer is, make no mistake, a true superstar to TV sci-fi fans and is best known as Number Six, aka “the hot blonde cylon” on “Battlestar Galactica.” The actress appeared with her significant other, the owner of a British accent and a Giaus Baltar-style beard, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. I had a not terribly consequential discussion with her — lost because I apparently forgot to press the “on” button on my digital recorder. One would expect no less an effect from Number Six. UPDATE: Yeesh! As pointed out by my PH compatriot John Paulsen, the actress was actually Kate Vernon, who played the lady-MacBeth-like Ellen Tigh. It is true, all statueseque blonde women in shiny dresses look alike to me! My apologies to all concerned or unconcerned.

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