I wasn't going to review this movie, since most people have never heard of it and wouldn't be expecting a review of it from me. It would have been a great chance to free up my time a little this week. But after watching this highly unusual film on Blu-ray this week, I felt compelled to express some thoughts about it.
SUPER is a low-budget, independent film (that uses its money to GREAT effect!) with some very familiar faces and names. The story follows Frank D'Arbo, a socially awkward short order cook (played by Rain Wilson, The Office) whose wife, a recovering drug addict, leaves him for her dealer. Desperate to reclaim his wife and furious over the injustice of life, Frank creates a superhero persona that he believes is inspired by God, and hits the streets to fight crime and save his wife. Joining him in his odd quest is comic book store employee, Libby, who is even more socially inept and seems to live almost completely in a fantasy world the more she involves herself with Frank.
Performances are wonderful across the board. Though not quite Oscar worthy, Wilson shows some wonderful emotional depth and portrays Frank with a vulnerability that at times nearly made me well up with tears. Ellen Page is startling in her psychosis and provides some of the best moments of dark humor. Liv Tyler is both sweet and sadly damaged as Frank's wife. And Kevin Bacon is an interesting focal point for each scene he is in as the drug dealer and villain of the story.
The tone of the movie is a bit scattered, starting out slow and uncertain, but ramping up into gear once "The Crimson Bolt" chooses his crime fighting weapon of choice. (A Pipe Wrench.) Much of the time, the movie aims for either seriousness or dark humor, but occasionally wanders into spoof or moments that distract from, rather than serve, the story. Chief among these are the religious spoofs featuring Frank's "visions" or the over the top "Bible Man" tv show spoof that Frank watches. Moments like these take away the sense of realism that otherwise grounds the movie so well. There is also a seduction sequence that, while lacking any nudity and initially serving the story and character development, goes on for too long and seems exploitative after the first 30-45 seconds.
Moments of Comedic Brilliance
Despite some of its awkwardly "off" moments, Super also has moments of (often dark) comedic brilliance, touching vulnerability and incredible "heroics" that rival the best moments of either KICK ASS or DEFENDOR, two other films that also deconstruct super heroics with relative realism.
The small budget (just a few million dollars) is used wonderfully, and the movie still has some extremely satisfying action and one very weird, but great-looking, digital special effects sequence.
May Trigger Conversations
SUPER may also trigger some worthwhile conversation or at least personal reflection. Christians like myself will likely be frustrated by the moments that grossly spoof either Christian beliefs or Christian culture. But it's worthwhile to look beyond these to see the themes of absolute morality and justice that the script grapples with. Frank is a character who mourns the injustice he has experienced in life. He has a childlike innocence about him as he expresses his longing for a better world. And though his actions can obviously not be supported by the Bible, they are still cathartic for anyone who is tired of the bad guys always winning in life.
I don't think I've ever seen a movie that had such a wide contrast of lousy and incredible moments, though I do think that the good moments of storytelling significantly outweigh the bad and make this movie worth watching, especially for superhero genre fans. The experience is likely to stay with you and provide some food for thought.
SUPER is rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use. (I would add "brief nudity" to the MPAA's description)