Review: Super (SXSW)
PLOT - A down-on-his-luck short order cook (Rainn Wilson) has about one thing going for him in life. His out-of-his-league beautiful wife (Liv Tyler) loves him. Only she no longer loves him. She's rekindled an old drug habit with the sleazy strip club owner (Kevin Bacon) and left ex high and dry. Desperate to rid his town of drugs and win back the heart of his wife, he takes on the ultra-violent superhero alter-ego The Crimson Bolt and starts crackin' skulls. Literally.
REVIEW - The early buzz on KICK-ASS, Matthew Vaughn's 2010 DIY superhero action-comedy was nothing short of overwhelming. I still remember asking someone who had seen the movie if it was overhyped and being told enthusiastically, "You can't overhype this movie." A few months later I caught up with KICK-ASS and mostly hated it. A year later, James Gunn debuted his own take on the DIY superhero genre to positive buzz as well. A few months later I caught up with SUPER at SXSW and.....?
...Mostly hated it. SUPER is, to be very fair, a far different movie than KICK-ASS. OK, not a far different movie - they both feature geeks making their own superheroes and hyper-violent young girls - but the problem with SUPER isn't just that it's a retread of KICK-ASS. There enough different stuff going on here to allow the film to stand on its own two legs. It's just that those legs are limp as wet noodles.
Tonally, SUPER is all over place. It's at times an extremely dark comedy (a violent and bloody beating is played for laughs) and other times as goofy as online sketch comedy. It tries to be sad and dramatic and bizarre and scary and essentially tries a little too hard to be too many things. Jack of all trades, master of none, as they say.
As I'm sure you've seen on "The Office," Rainn Wilson plays demented very well and his character in SUPER is far more demented than anything he's played before. In fact, he's very likely insane after years of torture throughout his life (he says there are only two happy moments in his entire existence) and has violent and disturbing hallucinations brought on by Japanese tentacle porn. Wilson plays the character well in a dramatic sense but the character is more scary than funny. You sympathize with him and would almost feel bad for laughing at him. He's a kindred spirit with Seth Rogen's Ronnie from OBSERVE AND REPORT.
The film has a very lo-fi feel to it, shot primarily handheld and a saturated look. It limps along making fairly obvious jokes and relying on a lot of shock value humor until it gets a shot in the arm from Ellen Page. I haven't much appreciated Page's work in the past (openly loathing JUNO) but she's so good as the maniacal sidekick in SUPER, I found myself far more interested in her backstory than anything that was happening with The Crimson Bolt.
Sadly, by the time Page arrives on screen as her costumed alter-ego, SUPER had mostly lost its steam. But I will say this for SUPER: It is absolutely the work of James Gunn. The man had a vision and this is 100% his film on screen. It takes audacious chances and makes bold moves and while they didn't work for me, I can respect what Gunn brought as a writer and director because at least this is a movie you probably don't see very often.
SUPER is a movie that doesn't pull any punches or offer any compromises. It's an in your face style that will turn off some viewers (this critic included) but will certainly find a very devoted cult audience elsewhere.