Superhero Movie

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/28/08 21:27:22

"Here's The Movie They Should Have Called "The Punisher"
1 stars (Sucks)

The good news about “Superhero Movie” is that it is better than either of the “Fantastic Four” movies. The bad news is that it isn’t that much better. Although it doesn’t quite plumb the depths reached by such hideous would-be parodies as “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie” and “Meet the Spartans,” it is still pretty much a ramshackle collection of mostly puerile jokes presented with all the artistic grace of a middle-school class pageant put on by a school in imminent danger of losing its accreditation and the best thing about is that it is so flimsy and forgettable that it will pretty much evaporate completely from your memory in the period of time between the beginning of the end credits and the moment that you hit the parking lot–less if you hit the washroom before leaving.

As you can no doubt surmise from the title–and if you can’t, you may be at the optimum I.Q. level to appreciate this film–“Superhero Movie” is a spoof of the recent wave of films involving caped crusaders, colorful villains and damsels who are constantly finding themselves falling into distress and out of their blouses. Although there are bits referring to the likes of “Batman,” “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four,” most of what passes for a plot here follows the basic parameters of the “Spider-Man” sagas. Gawky teenager Rick Riker (Drake Bell), who lives with his wise old aunt and uncle (Marion Ross and Leslie Nielsen), pines for blonde classmate Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton) and is constantly hounded by class bully Lance Landers (Ryan Hansen), is visiting a laboratory on a class trip when he is bitten by a genetically-enhanced dragonfly that endows him with super powers. Before long, he dubs himself Dragonfly and begins fighting crime in the bustling metropolis of Empire City. Eventually, he even gets himself an arch-villain in Lance’s filthy rich and terminally ill uncle Lou (Christopher McDonald), whose attempts at personal genetic modification turn him into Hourglass, a baddie who needs to kill one person every day in order to prolong his own life. I’d give you some more plot details but unfortunately, I went to the bathroom once the movie ended.

With their combination of ridiculous plots and incredibly self-serious attitudes, you would think that contemporary superhero movies would prove to be an irresistible target for someone trying to do a film parody–after all, the disaster movies of the 1970's and the boilerplate TV cop dramas of the 1960's contained those same elements and they inspired two of the best films from the entire spoof sub-genre, “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun!” You and I could take an hour for lunch tomorrow and probably come up with an enormous collection of gags inspired by recent superhero epics, especially less-than successful ones like “Catwoman,” “Daredevil” and “Superman Returns.” And yet, based on the evidence presented here, it feels as if writer-director Craig Mazin has never even seen any of those films with the exception of the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” films–there are no “Superman” gags, no jokes based on the Hulk and the only “Batman” goof references the first Tim Burton effort and not the recent “Batman Begins.” When that particular well of inspiration runs dry, far more quickly than even the most optimistic viewer might guess, the film resorts to such tried and true elements as fart jokes, bits where people either slam into things at top speed or get things slammed into them and, in its most bizarre tangent, scenes in which Stephen Hawking (Robert Joy) is repeatedly abused as a running gag that crosses all the boundaries of decency and taste without having the compensating factor of being funny.

Sometimes, a movie of this type can get away with substandard material for a while if the cast contains people who have the ability to deliver it with enough energy and panache to make it seem funnier than it actually is–Anna Faris in the “Scary Movie” series is a good example of a performer with enough ditzy charm to pull off scenes that might have otherwise been unspeakably vile and unfunny. “Superhero Movie” does have a couple of performers like that but they have unfortunately been relegated to supporting roles–Christopher McDonald is amusingly blustery as Hourglass and while Leslie Nielsen, who is to this particular genre what Christopher Walken is to the gangster film and Sylvia Kristel was to 70's-era soft-core erotica, basically does the same old schtick that he has been offering ever since the formerly bland leading man was reinvented as a zany comic performer in “Airplane!,” it can still wring a few yuks (and yucks) from the most feeble jokes and he gets plenty of chances to demonstrate that talent here. On the other hand, the two leads appear to be powerless in the face of lame jokes. As Dragonfly, Drake Bell demonstrates no personality, no comic timing and virtually no on-screen presence, even when he is gadding about in a dragonfly outfit. In the role of the damsel-in-distress, Sara Paxton (whom I recall as being somewhat amusing in such films as “Aquamarine” and “Sydney White”) gets so little to do here that for a minute, you think that the film is parodying how other superhero epics have never known what to do with their leading female characters other than to have them in constant need of rescue until you finally realize that there is no joke–this movie has no idea what to do with its central female character either.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that amidst the wreckage that is “Superhero Movie,” there are a few moments that I did chuckle at, which is more than I can say about the likes of “The Comebacks” or “Meet the Spartans.” There are the photos that Rick looks at showing his father in happier times. There is the sight of Leslie Nielsen explaining puberty to his nephew. There is the parody of the upside-down kiss in the rain from “Spider-Man” in which the wrong nipples protrude from the wrong wet T-shirt. There is an admittedly gratuitous goof on that videotape of Tom Cruise babbling about Scientology that made the rounds on YouTube that works because the guy they got to play Cruise does a frighteningly spot-on impersonation. There is the moment when two superheroes appear on the same building ledge in order to stare pensively at the skyline. There is the invisible catfight involving Pamela Anderson (although it must be said that the mere idea of an invisible catfight involving Pamela Anderson is actually a lot more amusing that the way it has been executed here). There is the sight of the lesser-known X-Man known as Sneezo. By my count, that makes seven the number of amusing moments on display in “Superhero Movie.” By an amazing coincidence, seven also happen to be the approximate age that you would have to be to find this film worth sitting through.

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