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The Specials
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   James Gunn (writer), Craig Mazin (director)
Genre:   Superhero comedy
Review Date:   November 23, 2005
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

"I used to think I didn't need a family. I mean, I had the demons and the walking skeletons. But the difference between a walking skeleton and a kid is, a kid won't eat the soft parts of your face while you're sleeping." Deadly Girl

Society was once bombarded by two giant meteor movies at the same time, and then the Mars movie glut. It turns out there was one for superhero comedies, too.

The Specials is a comedy with well-known actors, all of whom play superheroes whose lack of success is the main plot. Sounds exactly like Mystery Men, except that movie got all the press and Smashmouth on the soundtrack. Mystery Men went to theaters in 2000, and The Specials went nowhere but DVD, and I found it in a bargain bin a little while ago.

Superhero movies are today at the crest of being the hip thing. This movie is a smart comic take on the genre. When it came out, the superhero movie train had just started rolling. And now I'll stop with the mixed metaphors.

Now the movie's star is an Oscar nominee. How about that, Ben Stiller? Thomas Haden Church is supposedly some kind of capital-A actor after Sideways, but people who have TVs knew he was awesome in Wings and Ned & Stacey. Now he's Sandman in Spider-Man 3 -- but his first round in the superhero movie business was here.

Church plays the square-jawed, smug Strobe, leader of a group of superheroes that the other supergroups make fun of. Paget Brewster from Andy Richter Controls the Universe is Mrs. Indestructible, and Rob Lowe is The Weevil, with whom she's having an affair.

The big difference between this and Mystery Men is that Mystery Men is more or less an action flick, but there is no superhero action in The Specials. It's a big sitcom where the players happen to be superheroes. The story revolves around The Specials getting their own line of action figures. And thus, they assume, respect. Of course that doesn't work out, and funniness ensues.

The dialogue is tremendously quotable. Deadly Girl is a quote machine. When asked what it's like to summon demons, she drips sarcasm over "They do your will, and that makes you feel good about yourself."

On being one of the Specials, The Weevil says, "It's like being the second sailor in line for the whore."

The movie's writer James Gunn plays Minute Man. He shrinks. From him there's this outburst: "It's MY-NEWT man! Do I LOOK like a soldier from the Revolutionary War?! Am I wearing a three-cornered hat? No! I turn small! THINK!"

If you like your comedy bitter and sarcastic, with lumps of goofiness, this is for you. It's really a writer's movie -- in fact, several of the Specials are played by comedy writers. This means you very well might not find it too funny. Or you'll love it.

Where Are They Now?

Thomas Haden Church(Strobe): Definitely getting that Oscar for turning into sand and fighting Spidey.

James Gunn(Minute Man): Writer of Slither, 2006 monster flick with Serenity's Nathan Fillion.

Paget Brewster(Mrs. Indestructible): Voices Birdgirl on Harvey Birdman, Attorney-at-Law.

Judy Greer(Deadly Girl): Kitty on Arrested Development.

Sean Gunn(Alien Orphan): Kirk on Gilmore Girls.

Jamie Kennedy(Amok): The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, which would have been better if called The Amok Experiment.

Rob Lowe(Weevil): Has starred in and been cancelled from about 18 shows, none of which he wore a mask for. So forget them.

Mike Schwartz (U.S. Bill) Writer on Scrubs. I don't know if he wrote the line "People aren't chocolates. Do you know what they are mostly? Bastards. Bastard-coated bastards with bastard fillings." But I'll say he did.

Crappy powers? Peers make fun of him? Humor editor Joe Crowe knows all about it.

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