If you’ve slummed around the more nefarious corners of B-movie junk cinema at any point during the last few decades, you’ve no doubt stumbled across some output from Troma Studios. Founded by independent film legend Lloyd Kaufman, Troma has been the torch-bearer for bad taste cult classics such as “The Toxic Avenger” and the brilliant musical-satire “Poultrygeist.” It also gave birth to the career of director James Gunn, who honed his skills on films like “Tromeo and Juliet” before moving on to Hollywood, where he wrote the scripts for the “Dawn of the Dead” redux and the two “Scooby Doo” films.
That might sound like an odd pairing of projects, but it’s pretty clear that Gunn is an odd guy. If you don’t believe me, check out his Hollywood directorial debut, “Slither”, an outrageous and disgusting throwback to B-movie creature features. It also happens to be one of my favorite horror offerings from the last decade. But if you want rock solid confirmation of Gunn’s derangement, look no further than his latest offering, “Super”, which is a wacky and insane blend of comic books, black humor, sex, and vigilante violence.
Rainn Wilson is mild-mannered Frank, a guy whose crowning achievement in life was marrying Sarah (Liv Tyler), who was a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Other than that shining moment, Frank has been the butt of jokes and has been pissed on (literally) throughout his life.
Even this is taken away from him, however, when Sarah relapses and falls into the clutches of Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a sleazy strip club owner. Fed up with life, Frank breaks down and questions God, who responds by presenting an evangelical television character called The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) and a quirky comic book shop clerk, Libby (Ellen Page). The two inspire him to don a mask and dub himself the Crimson Bolt; now, armed with his sedan and a giant wrench, he has just one simple message: “shut up, crime!”
Just so you have a good idea of the world you’re stepping into in “Super,” consider this: the voice of God is provided by shock rocker Rob Zombie, and the lord employs anime-style tentacles to implant ideas into our hero’s brain in a bizarre, Cronenberg-esque sequence. This is a deliciously demented film that proves that Gunn hasn’t forgotten his Troma roots (his mentor Kaufman even shows up in a cameo), as he shows little to no regard for good taste or decency.
It’s loaded with unapologetic violence and humor that ranges from silly, dark, and downright absurd. We of course laugh that the idea of this pathetic grown man parading around as a superhero, and the film gives us plenty of chances to appropriately yuk it up. And then it bashes us in the face with a wrench and asks us to keep laughing.
And, for the most part, you will keep laughing, so long as you’re as demented as the flick is. I imagine this one will cross a lot of thresholds for many in the audience, but it does so with an admirable panache. In fact, it’s down right dedicated to being offensive, even going so far as to parody Christianity with its side-splitting Holy Avenger segments.
If that isn’t enough, rest assured that you will be treated to crass discussions dedicated to bodily fluids. And then you’ll see other bodily fluids spilled all over the screen. If you’re already wondering where the fun is to be found in all of this, then “Super” isn’t the film for you.
But if you’re like me and can’t get enough of such delightful romps, you’ll find plenty to like, namely the two main characters. Wilson is pathetic and off-beat as Frank; he might also be nuts, but you can hardly blame him because there is still a certain nobility about him. In an insane world, he might just be the least insane.
Complementing him is the always radiant Ellen Page, who is as loquacious and bubbly as ever as Libby; essentially a more foul-mouthed, psychotic, and sex-crazed update of Juno, Libby is the film’s heart and soul–how appropriate that she is probably the most insane as well. She and Wilson make a dynamic duo indeed, but their polar opposite personalities create a quirky, effective chemistry.
I would like to have seen more done with the villains–Bacon is expectedly sleazy, but also gets in some humor during his limited screen time. Michael Rooker is criminally underused as one of Bacon’s henchmen and is mostly there to serve as a mouthpiece and carry out orders.
The film does hit one very false note towards the end; though the film had me laughing (albeit uncomfortably at times) throughout, even I found it difficult to crack a smile during the climax, which features a vicious, all-out assault of violence and schlock that misses the playful undercurrent of the rest of the film. It does ultimately try to re-center itself with a poignant epilogue that tries to reassure us that it was all worthwhile. The schizophrenic tonal shifts are definitely jarring, as the film expects you to laugh, seethe, and then smile, all within the span of fifteen minutes.
That’s really weird coming from a film about a middle-aged guy in tights–but what’s even more weird is that it actually works. Though I still find it hard to get over that one false note, it is not completely unforgivable. If anything, it speaks to how well the film had me invested in its characters and their plights. That should be the chief aim of any film, and “Super’s” ability to do it proves that its deranged heart is in the right place–even if its brains are splattered all over the place.