Reviewed by Serena Whitney
Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon
Directed by James Gunn
It has been four years since James Gunn unleashed his underrated and misunderstood genre hit Slither to a clueless mainstream crowd, and now the director has made the clever decision of premiering his soon to be beloved follow-up SUPER to his appreciative fans at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. In spite of the fact that filmgoers may be initially disappointed that the budget is not on par with Gunn’s directorial debut, its star-studded cast should speak volumes as to how all one needs to attract major star power to a project is an inspired script and a passionate and inimitable director behind the camera.
SUPER follows Frank D’arbo (Rainn Wilson), an unhappy and religious cook who just had his strikingly beautiful wife (Liv Tyler) leave him for a big-time drug dealer (cunningly played by Kevin Bacon). After a late night session of watching Hentai porn (a scene that will remind a few of Oliver Assayas’ Demonlover), Frank has a fevered dream of being touched by the hand of God and is then convinced his purpose in life is to become Crimson Bolt, a real-life superhero who will relentlessly and selflessly hunt down evil and punish the sinners with the power of his trusty wrench. Crimson Bolt does not discriminate either as he hunts down child molesters to line-butters, and with the help of his mischievous and psychotic sidekick “Boltie” (Ellen Page), both costumed vigilantes embark on a mission to rescue Frank’s wife from the drug dealer and his heavily-armed goons. Wrench bludgeonings, random cameo spottings and a shocking gender role-reversal rape scene ensue.
Once audience members witness the cartoon opening credits that look remarkably like Gregg Araki’s Smiley Face opening sequence, viewers who are familiar with James Gunn’s style will know they are in for another cinematic experience that blurs the borders between the horror and satire genres like his previous effort. Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with Gunn’s previous work may feel put off by the mix of genres and many profoundly disturbing Troma-inspired scenarios the film has to offer, which is a damn shame because SUPER is far more than what meets the eye.
Unlike this year’s sleeper hit Kick-Ass (a film SUPER will be constantly compared to), this film does not feature choreographed kill sequences, but that’s not to say the violence is not at all extreme. When Crimson Bolt wails his wrench into some poor sap’s cranium, things get “gushy” (a word viewer will be repulsed by after watching the film). After viewing a montage of Frank’s alter-ego going around and bashing people’s heads in with a wrench, it is safe to say there are far more controversial things to witness in a superhero film than seeing a young girl utter the "C" word.
Also, under the film’s dark underbelly lies a far more dramatic tale than audience members would expect from a movie that features a man and a sidekick running around in cheap costumes and kicking the crap out of people. SUPER spends a good amount of time examining the realism of how miserable and unfulfilling life can truly be at times. While others can meander through their entire lives living blissful yet ignorant lives, there are others like Frank who relish in life’s very few perfect moments as the world is a fairly boring and cold place most of the time. I applaud Rainn Wilson for proving that he is capable of taking on such an unexpectedly multi-layered role.
The rest of the cast also gave superb performances; however, it’s Ellen Page who really steals the show by taking on such a risky role of playing a loud, annoying and dim-witted character (a character miles away from the roles she usually takes).
On the downside SUPER's script was far too ambitious for its extremely low budget. The tone and feel of the film was also very inconsistent at times, and those expecting great character actors Michael Rooker and Nathan Fillion to have big roles will be saddened to see the Slither actors blend into the background.
Despite it being fairly rough around the edges, it is SUPER's off-kilter composition that makes this such a scabrously hilarious film that will most likely be treasured for years to come.
3 1/2 out of 5
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