“Super” is the third regular-guy-decides-to-become-a-super-hero dark comedy of the last 18 months, following in the footsteps of “Defendor” and “Kick-Ass.” If only the film had the same courage of its convictions as its hero, The Crimson Bolt.
Frank (Rainn Wilson) is a short order cook in a crappy diner who’s enjoyed only two perfect moments in his life: his wedding to Sarah (Liv Tyler) and the time he helped a cop catch a crook. But when Sarah starts doing drugs again, ultimately leaving Frank for her dealer, Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank is distraught.
Inspired by a Christian TV superhero called The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) and a vision from God, Frank decides to become the Crimson Bolt, a man in a red cowl and suit armed only with a pipe wrench, and sets out to rid Detroit of crime and win back his wife. Along the way he is helped by Libby (Ellen Page), a comic-book store employee who eventually insists on forging her own super-hero identity, Boltie, and be Frank’s sidekick.
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James Gunn, the film’s writer and director, made his bones working for Troma Films, the folks responsible for such classics as “The Toxic Avenger,” and his pedigree comes through loud and clear. No moment can be too bloody or too violent for Gunn’s taste. He’s clearly going for laughs with his buckets of blood and flying chunks of flesh, but he presents it all with a wink, as if he wants you to know that he knows it’s a joke—he’s overly self-aware to the point of rendering much of it unfunny.
Maybe Gunn should take up video direction, because the moments of the film that work best are the music montages, especially the title sequence, an animated dance routine set to “Calling All Destroyers” by the now defunct LA power pop band Tsar (full disclosure: their old friends).
Rainn Wilson is indelibly stamped, unfairly or not, in the public consciousness, as Dwight on “The Office,” and it’s too bad, as he’s shown in the past that he can do more. But his Frank is so drab and monotonous that it fails to draw you in. How are you supposed to root for a hero who won’t root for himself? It’s not until the final showdown with “Jock,” when he lets the spittle fly--“YOU DON’T KEY CARS!”--that he shows some life.
The film would’ve benefited greatly if there’s been more focus on “Jock,” as Frank refers to him, and if Libby/Boltie had shown up about 20 minutes sooner, as both Bacon and Page are clearly having a blast. Bacon brings a slithery charm and a righteous indignation to his drug-dealing lover of scrambled eggs. Page meanwhile, is spazzing out most every minute she’s on screen, and as she did on “Saturday Night Live,” has great deal of fun tweaking speculation about her own real-life sexuality.
"Super" has its moments, but there too few and far between to make it as much fun as the team behind it had hoped.