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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Super (Limited Release Date: 4-1-2011)

        For some strange reason, it seems that odd duck, genre specific movies sometimes come out in groups. Back in 2006, the movie world was treated to two magician-centric period dramas within months of one another (The Illusionist and The Prestige). Between 2007 and 2008, there was a string of four (FOUR?!?!) pregnancy-themed comedies (Waitress, Knocked Up, Juno, and Baby Mama). What else was a strange coincidence in 2008? Try two mall cop comedies (Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Observe and Report). Movies take far too long to make for each of these flicks to just be copying their predecessor. Besides, all similarities between Waitress and Knocked Up, or Paul Blart and Observe and Report, are only on a superficial, surface level. The same could be said for the current string of regular-guy-becomes-a-superhero movies. Depending on how you see it, the initiator of this trend could be Batman Begins, or even its much more popular sequel The Dark Knight. Keeping with the dark natured drama theme, 2009 brought us Watchmen, but what's perhaps more to the point is the collection of comedy-leaning flicks the sub-genre has produced of late. Last year, it was Kick-Ass and the virtually unattended Defendor, and here comes Super, the newest twisted take on what goes on in the mind of a mere mortal who dawns a costume to roams the streets at night.

        In his first starring roll since 2008's mega-flop The Rocker, Rainn Wilson plays Frank D'Arbo, a cook at a local cafe with a lot on his mind. In a pre-credits opening backstory, we learn that D'Arbo has essentially been miserable since birth, abused by family and peers alike for his awkward looks and personality. Despite these faults, D'Arbo has somehow managed to marry the beautiful Sarah (Liv Tyler), a fact that he essentially observes as being his existence's lone redeeming quality. But when she disappears with a beyond-smarmy drug-dealer (Kevin Bacon), Frank decides (through methods that I would never want to spoil) that he must become the costumed crime fighter Crimson Bolt. Dressed in the single ugliest superhero costume ever conceived, and armed with only a pipe-wrench, D'Arbo sets to the streets to warm up for his real bad-guy-busting adventure.

        After ducking out into TV after the poor performance of his hilarious, gross-out alien slug invasion  comedy Slither, James Gunn returns to the feature-film directing chair with a flick that seems intent on upping the ante of everything he's done before it. While Kick-Ass and Watchmen were both rated-R for good reason, their vulgarity pales in comparison to Super, a movie that seems to take pride in the fact that it covers all four inappropriate bases (language, sexuality, violence, and drug use) within its opening few minutes, not one left on the table before the opening credits roll. Some of this hard-hard R stuff really works, the majority of the film's awesomely off-putting moments occurring when Ellen Page enters the movie as Crimson Bolt's side-kick, Boltie. But it's just as often that the movie's explicit nature seems forced and smug, occasionally rubbing the audience's nose in ultra-violence as if to say, 'see, see, this is what violence really looks like.' I get the joke/message, and it's not an in-valuble one; It's just one that I've seen explained in far more graceful and clever fashion in the past, not to mention being tarnished by the tonally confusing comicbook-style word-bubbles that occasionally accompany it.

        While Gunn's screenplay can be kind of spotty here and there, his rapport with actors is in fine form. While Tyler doesn't have much to do besides act extremely drugged out, Bacon's baddie is deliciously over-the-top, all twitchy, mean-spirited, and gold-tooth sporting. As previously alluded, Page is stellar in the movie, used as the cast's lone connection to the ADD, mile-a-minute speakers that arrived a generation after them. And then there's poor Wilson, here giving us a twisted, damaged and ever-compelling maniac, and still being mistaken for The Office's Dwight Schrute. Unfortunately, Super is likely the final, damning proof that Wilson's face and voice will forever be likened with that iconic television character, though the deranged sympathy and disgust that he can pull from the audience at alternating turns is more than worth mention. It's the most inspired I've seen the guy since his famed sitcom's early days, and maybe even better. Super is a movie with some OK ideas, some good laughs, and some great performances. While its unlikely to make a house-hold name of either Gunn or Wilson, it's a worthy addition to a strange, ever-growing sub-genre. Just don't be surprised if you're feeling a bit queasy on your walk out of the theater.

Grade: B-

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