'Super' -- talented cast, director, wasted on costumed vigilante flick

Movie review

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Fans of last year's ultra violent geek-fest "Kick-Ass" will find much to admire in director James Gunn's "Super," a low-budget take on the inept costumed vigilante drama pioneered by that earlier, far slicker film.

Rainn Wilson ("The Office") is Frank, a mild-mannered fry cook who is compelled by a tragic turn of events to become the ridiculous do-it-yourself superhero, the Crimson Bolt.


1 1/2 stars = Bad
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page.
  • Rating: Not rated but contains scenes of extreme violence, sexual situations and profanity.

When Frank's impossibly sexy but troubled wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), is lured away into a life of drug addiction and white slavery by preening dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon), the Crimson Bolt finds a focus for his messianic fury. While in costume, the Crimson Bolt wields a wrench like a cudgel, breaking the bones of "evil doers" and the occasional obnoxious civilian with nihilistic relish.

There isn't much daylight between Crimson Bolt's civilian alter ego and the misanthropic character Mr. Wilson plays on "The Office." As the absurdity escalates for the wannabe superhero, we're not too disturbed. We've seen Dwight Schrute get into equally bad predicaments for years.

When the Crimson Bolt's secret identity is discovered by Libby (Ellen Page), a slightly off-kilter comic book store clerk, he agrees to make her his partner in crime-fighting.

Libby calls herself Boltie, which is appropriate given that she has a screw or two loose. As Boltie, Libby exhibits a bloodlust that is just as pronounced as the sadistic criminals the Crimson Bolt has sworn to bring to justice.

"Super" probably will be the most uneven film you're likely to see this year. It veers wildly in tone from zany send-up of the superhero movie genre to thoughtful portrait of social alienation to blood-spattered grind-house melodrama.

"Super" also has a distinctive look that is probably supposed to mirror the pulp feel of old comic books and matinee movies of the early '70s. The dialogue is self-consciously ironic and reeks of indie movie pretensions we've all grown tired of over the years.

In an annoying subplot, Frank is fascinated by an ongoing religious soap opera featuring a truly offensive Jesus (Matt Moore) in yellow superhero tights fighting the machinations of the devil. Because these vignettes don't advance the plot in any significant way, they feel like pointless religious provocations.

When two characters, one major and one minor, are casually dispatched in a blaze of gunfire, you know that the filmmaker has exhausted the limits of his ability to tell a coherent story.

In real life, there would be so much fallout from those particular deaths that it would threaten the film's forward momentum, but they're never explored in the narrative, not even in passing.

With the exception of the terrific animated opening credits, "Super" is a remarkably soulless film given the collective talent of its cast and director. Because it can't make up its mind whether it is a comedy, drama or some unholy synthesis of the two, "Super" never quite rises above being an uninteresting mess.

It feels too much like a superhero film made by people who hate superhero films.

Opens Friday at the Harris Theater, Downtown.

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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