The latest in an array of caped crusader spoofs, the gruesome comedy-drama Super is a decidedly mixed bag. Yet I can't quite get it out of my head.
The Office's Rainn Wilson stars as a certified loser who, after his indifferent wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a sleazy strip club owner (Kevin Bacon), has a religious vision that tells him to seek revenge by becoming a superhero. So he stitches together a pitiful red outfit, calls himself "The Crimson Bolt", and fights petty crime – a bit too enthusiastically, as he furiously swings his pipe wrench down upon perpetrators' heads and cracks them open.
The first half hour or so of Super is disappointing, bogged down by lame jokes and awkward religious satire. But it picks up considerably once Ellen Page joins the fray as the all-too-willing Robin to Wilson's self-righteous Batman. She gives a fearless, wild, nearly psychotic performance, which is absolutely necessary for scenes that require an actor to go big or go home. Whereas Wilson remains an unconvincing leading man, the tone of his performance wavering and uncertain (like the film itself), Page acts like a genuine movie star.
Indie stalwart James Gunn, who penned the similarly disjointed superhero satire The Specials in 2000, as well as the unfortunate Scooby-Doo live action pictures and several Troma movies, really hit the jackpot with his cast. It's a surprisingly glamorous roster of talent in an artless, unapologetically low budget movie. I don't know how Gunn convinced them, but without the participation of Bacon, Tyler, and especially Page (along with an enviable supporting cast of familiar faces, including Nathan Fillion), Super would fall flat on its face, coming across as a third-rate Kick-Ass knockoff. But Page's horny sidekick is far more interesting than Chloë Grace Moretz's star-making turn in Kick-Ass, the violence is significantly less stylized and more disturbing, and Super's conclusion is downright touching. It's definitely not without its problems, but it's likely to become a cult favorite.