Following in the bootsteps of last year’s exceptional ”Kick Ass,” this hybrid of a movie about a geek who decides to become a masked vigilante fighting for justice comes across as totally tone-deaf. Part insipid comedy, part ultra-violent action-movie send-up and all terrible, “Super” most definitely isn’t.
“The Office” stalwart Rainn Wilson stars as Frank Darbo, a physically flaccid but morally prim cook at a local greasy spoon. When his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering addict he’d recently wed, abandons him for a sleazy bar owner and drug kingpin Jacques (Kevin Bacon), the despondent dope is inspired by a vision prompted by a Christian superhero The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) on a cable TV show to don a homemade costume and fight crime as The Crimson Avenger. Wielding a wrench, he batters pedophiles, drug pushers and jerks who have the temerity to sneak ahead of him in a line of ticket-buyers at a movie theatre. Before long he’s joined in his klutzy adventures by Libby (Ellen Page), a comic-shop clerk who figures out he’s the Bolt and insists on becoming his sidekick Boltie, and takes to the part with psychotic enthusiasm (as well as list for her oddly fastidious “mentor”)
“Super” is a truly weird amalgam. The first half is basically a seedy, ragged shaggy-dog about an obsessive boob dumped by his wife who—courtesy of “messages” from beyond that are probably nothing more than the hallucinations of a disturbed personality—prowls the streets vigilante-style. None of it is very funny, but it takes a darker turn when his attacks on “wrongdoers” get nastily bloody. And the quotient of violence ratchets up considerably when Boltie enters the picture; she positively exults in beating offenders to a pulp and taking things to a higher level. And when the duo go to rescue Sarah from Jacques’ clutches just as he’s having a meeting with a major thug, the result is a culminating orgy of bombs, blood, bullets and knives.
One can imagine what writer-director James Gunn is after here: a dark satire on the super-hero genre that’s also a grim commentary on its psychological underpinnings. But “Kick Ass” managed that trick far more deftly, remaining cheekily engaging even as the violence ramped up, largely because it held to a true comic-book feel. By contrast “Super” suffers from tonal schizophrenia. It totally fails to meld the goofy farce of the first half with the sloppy, cruel action of the second. And as a result it winds up seeming a misshapen mess.
One might have expected better of Gunn, whose earlier feature, “Slither” (2006), was a pitch-perfect spoof of shlock fifties horror movies about alien invaders taking over human hosts. In the circumstances the cast fare poorly. Wilson basically repeats his “Office” shtick, never earning our sympathy (a problem when the script gives him a “happy” ending), Tyler seems utterly miscast, and Bacon does a caricature of the kind of nervy bad-guy he’s killed in pictures like “Death Sentence.” In lesser roles Fillion (who starred in “Slither”), Gregg Henry (as a cop) and Michael Rooker (as one of Jacques’ underlings) bring little more than their personalities to the table. However, Page brings such energy and intensity to Libby that she virtually overwhelms everybody else. She’s extraordinary, though in a lost cause.
“Super” may become a cult movie. But the cult is likely to be small and deeply disturbed.