Super (IFC Films, NR)

It finds most of its humor in how regular Frank really is—he’s dumb and sloppy and petty just like you and me.

 

 

If A Clockwork Orange or Fight Club can inspire copycat crimes, why can’t superhero fiction inspire copycat heroics? The thing is that maybe it does, except heroics performed by regular people in real life often comes out looking like buffoonery—or plain old crime. So how do we know who the good guys and the bad guys are when all we see is one guy hitting another in the face with a wrench?

This is essentially the plot of Super, which sees the below average in every capacity Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson, The Office’s Dwight) become a superhero to save his relapsed ex-druggie wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) from her group of druggie friends. While that may be a noble enough cause Sarah left Frank by choice, which calls into question Frank’s actions, saving her from drugs or not. And besides, Frank has no powers to speak of and is more than a little naïve and deluded—in trying to save Sarah he puts himself and nearly everyone around him at risk for their lives, the innocent and guilty alike.

Like any good superhero, Frank (whose alter ego is called ‘The Crimson Bolt’) acquires a scrappy young sidekick in the form of comic shop employee Libby (Juno’s Ellen Page), who he meets while researching how to become a superhero when one has no superpowers. Libby’s got a big boner for real-life superheroes, and affixes herself at Frank’s side as ‘Boltie’ whether he wants her there or not. Frank’s arch-enemy is Sarah’s new boyfriend Jacques (Kevin Bacon), who actually seems like a pretty nice guy aside from his dealings in strip clubs, drugs, and other peoples’ wives.

Super isn’t a straight-out comedy the way it sounds like it would be, nor is it an action movie. It is something of a black comedy, though, and it finds most of its humor in how regular Frank really is—he’s dumb and sloppy and petty just like you and me. He changes into his red suit in his car, pressing his barely-clad ass to the window in full view of people nearby, and he nearly kills people for butting in line in front of him. He doesn’t know where to find crime, and gets bored sitting around waiting for it to happen. That said, he tries really hard to be a good person, which the movie also finds a lot of dark humor in. You can tell that writer/director James Gunn took pleasure in writing the film’s numerous scenes in which Frank prays before going to bed.

It feels like Super was written specifically with Rainn Wilson in mind for the role of Frank; I was amazed to see that it wasn’t, and that Wilson was only attached to the  project years after Gunn had written it. Maybe it’s just that Wilson has a tendency to make things feel his own—which is a shame in my mind, because I’ve never really liked him much. He’s fine here, but not good enough to change my opinion of him. Thankfully, I do like the rest of the cast; in addition to Liv Tyler and Ellen Page (who is annoying here, but presumably intentionally so), we get Michael Rooker and Nathan Fillion in fairly substantial supporting roles, and cameos from the likes of Lloyd Kaufman, Linda Cardellini, James Gunn himself, and even Rob Zombie as the voice of God (how can you not like that?).

For the action sequences Gunn employs your comic book-style “Bam”s and “Pow”s, which are only somewhat effective; much more fun is the animated opening credits sequence, which gives you a nice preview of what’s to come. And besides, this isn’t really a movie about the action; it’s about the moral and physical struggle of a regular guy trying to do extraordinary things, no matter how deluded his reasons for doing them might be. | Pete Timmermann

 

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