Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Super (2011)

Bringing a wrench down on the head of crime.

Image: Studio Canal

If the basic plot of Super sounds familiar it’s probably because you saw last year’s cult hit Kick Ass. A dark comedy about an ordinary guy deciding to fight crime? Could this low-budget comedy offer anything different?
After his drug addict wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) leaves him for sleazy local crime boss Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is distraught. Praying for guidance, he has a vision which inspires him to become The Crimson Bolt, a costumed vigilante who fights crime with a wrench. As he works his way up the crime ladder towards Jacques, comic book store employee Libby (Ellen Page) joins him as “kid sidekick” Boltie.

It becomes clear quite quickly that writer-director James Gunn (Slither) isn’t interested in his audience sitting comfortably. The tone of Super is constantly shifting. The start of the film seems somewhat mean-spirited, as it is made clear that Frank is clearly mentally disturbed and suffers heartbreak and beatings at the hands of Jacques’ goons. After Frank has his tentacle-delivered, anime-inspired divine intervention, the slapstick is brutally gory and the humour is pitch black. The Crimson Bolt goes after everyone from child molesters to people who butt in line at the movies with his trusty wrench. The violence is shocking, brutal and unflinching, and not always played for laughs.

This refusal to settle on a tone means that the film does feel a bit scattershot. It’s to Gunn’s credit that we’re never sure whether we’re supposed to laugh at Frank, feel sorry for him, or be repulsed by his actions. It’s almost certainly all three, something that Wilson (The Office US) accomplishes perfectly. Page (Juno) is also excellent as the psychotic Libby, who shares Frank’s desire to punish evil but none of his Christian morals. She’s foulmouthed, hyperactive, and utterly deranged. The two share a great chemistry and the film is at its best when they are together on screen.

The supporting cast is an interesting mix. Tyler breaks type but doesn’t have much to do, Bacon is predictably hilarious and character actor stalwarts (and Slither stars) Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry do good work. Then there are cameos from Nathan Fillion as Christian superhero The Holy Avenger, Linda Cardellini (ER) as a pet shop employee, and Rob Zombie as the voice of God.

When it comes down to it, a lot of the film doesn’t work as well as it should. The carefully considered slapdash approach makes it interesting and occasionally inspired as well as inaccessible and inconsistent. Finally, the moral questions posed are answered in a way that will almost certainly upset some audiences. And that’s probably the point.

Verdict: Dark, nasty, and harsh, it’s got brilliant parts, especially when Wilson and Page share the screen. But it’s all over the place. For all its faults it will almost certainly find a cult following on DVD.



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