Why do I keep doing this to myself?
Maybe this isn’t the best way to start a review. After all, as I keep telling myself, I volunteered for this. I CHOSE this. I wasn’t born genetically predetermined to watch bad parody movies. It wasn’t like I had some traumatic childhood episode that caused all of this. Oh sure, I grew up on Adam West’s Batman. But could that really have caused this unnatural obsession with crappy joke movies?
Let’s start with the basics. Superhero Movie is about Rick Riker, played by Drake Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh) with the same goofy likeability that helped Tobey Maguire pass for Peter Parker. He lives the life of the average high school zero. Rick pines from afar for the attentions of beautiful Jill Johnson, played by Aquamarine’s Sara Paxton. Unfortunately for Rick, Jill is already taken by Lance Landers, who in stereotypical Flash Thompson style makes Rick’s life a living hell.
Oh, wait. Did I give something away? Sorry, but I have to give away the biggest spoiler of the movie (with the help of the movie’s marketing, of course): Superhero Movie is a twisted retelling of the origin of Spider-man, down to the opening credit, where we learn the answer to the ages-old question, "Don’t those tights ride up?" Let’s just say you get a more sympathetic appreciation for over-endowed Burt Ward’s time in Robin’s shorts.
It is no surprise, then, that when Rick is bitten by a radioactive, genetically altered dragonfly he acquires its abilities and proportionate strength. Except that there is one small detail: He can’t fly. Rick’s quest for that final ability becomes the lightning rod around which the chaotic storm of this movie revolves.
Rick lives with his uncle Albert (Leslie Nielsen, King of All Spoofs) and Aunt Lucille. In a refreshing twist, Aunt Lucille is played by Marion Ross, Mrs. C. from Happy Days. And, oh, the words that come out of that sweet mouth! If dredging up old has-been actresses and making them potty mouths for squeamish effect is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right. Drop that F Bomb, Mrs. C!
As Rick discovers his abilities, he naturally ponders a larger role in the world around him. It is only when his uncle Albert is gunned down (screw the spoiler alert, you saw that coming from a mile away) that Rick realizes that with great power comes "Ow! You’ve got your knee in my balls!" God bless Leslie Nielsen!
Enter Lou Landers, played by Chris MacDonald. Have you ever seen anyone play a better A-hole? Remember how charming he was in Thelma and Louise? How about Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore? This guy wrote the book on douche bags.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t use that sort of word in a review, but given that (MINOR SPOILER) at one point Lou Landers actually wins the "Douche Bag of the Year" award for "advances in feminine hygiene", I feel justified in this lapse in decorum.
Come to think of it, lack of decorum is quite the hallmark for this film. From fart jokes to pee jokes to scatalogical humor to homophobia (albeit the funny, charming sort of homophobia), the movie takes as its source material not only Spider-Man’s venerable history but just about any distasteful bodily function know to man. And this would be Complaint Number One: Chill with the poop jokes already!
Meanwhile, Lou Landers, uncle to Rick’s nemesis, Lance, discovers he is dying. The solution to his problems involves the obligatory high tech gizmo that curses Landers with the ability to steal his victims’ life forces. Landers takes on the guise of Hourglass, the Green Goblin to Dragonfly’s Spider-Man. Brent Spiner plays Landers’s head scientist, but Spiner’s talents are wasted.
Not because he isn’t funny, but because they don’t give him any significant material. The writers didn’t even make him a good toady. (For a better example of a sci-fi/ comics movie role for a genre icon, see Sky High, specifically for Lynda Cater’s turn as Principal Powers.)
Hourglass goes on his rampage, his ultimate goal the World Humanity Awards, where he is certain to find the forty-two-thousand-and-change victims whose life force will guarantee his immortality.
Dragonfly, meanwhile, is introduced to the world of superheroing, mainly through the efforts of Professor X, played to the height of ghetto fabulousness by Tracy Morgan. Handicapped hilarity ensues, as the jokes aimed at Professor X’s ever-changing mode of transportation are rivaled in their stupidity only by those aimed at his wife, Mrs. X, also in a wheelchair, and their children, also similarly afflicted.
At his School for the Non-Asian Gifted, Professor X introduces Rick to other children with abilities that are usually abused by their bearers. I won’t give anything away, as these make for some of the funnier highlights.
A particularly memorable scene of Dragonfly’s Superhero 101 training involves the Human Torch, played by B-List celeb Simon Rex, teaching Rick the proper way to brood atop a skyscraper gargoyle. Given the movie’s earlier nod to Batman Begins, you would expect this training to come from a certain Dark Knight. Instead the audience is treated to some awkward (OK . . . excruciating) homoeroticism, after which the Torch "flames on" and . . . well, I wouldn’t want to spoil that either.
Now, as you may recall from my earlier review of Meet the Spartans, one of the mainstays of successful parodies is they are topical and current. Superhero Movie skirts this requirement (deftly I might add) by sticking to classic source material.
The in jokes take stabs at comic books conventions (and, naturally, overzealous nerds), high school cliques, and adolescent hormones, all of which have existed way longer than any spoof. These in jokes provide the backbone of this movie and make for its more successful gags.
Loyal readers of RevolutionSF will also recall that a part of me never left third grade. I feel the need to confess this again, when recalling one of my favorite scenes of the movie. Rick has just returned home after a hard night of superheroics. Aunt Lucille and the rest of her Thanksgiving guests are waiting for him, when they hear noises coming from his room.
Recalling that truly chilling scene in Spider-Man when Norman Osborn goes up to Peter Parker’s room to investigate, Lou Landers goes searching for Rick.
In this case, however, the blood that Osborne finds on the bedroom floor is replaced by . . . Well, Rick shouldn’t have had that jumbo (two foot tall!) slushy before returning home. We all know how hard it is to "hold it in," especially when hanging from the ceiling. Well, we can imagine, anyway. And like Austin Power’s bladder evacuation that just would not end, Rick’s incontinence is, in a word, legendary. Hee hee hee!
I would be remiss in my duties as reviewer if I didn’t mention the recurring role of Dr. Stephen Hawking, played to spot-on perfection by Robert Joy. Joy, who played the mentally challenged Charlie in Land of the Dead, this time charts the diametrical opposite in his role as the world’s smartest man. The things they do to his wheelchair-bound genius!
It just goes to show that everything sounds better when uttered by a computer-generated voice. If you don’t believe me, just go to http://www.research.att.com/~ttsweb/tts/demo.php and just type in a few obscenities for "Charles, U. K. English". You won’t be sorry! Honestly, I have had hours of fun with this. (See "third grade humor" in the paragraph above.)
I guess I’m going to hell for this, but at least I’ll go laughing.
Superhero Movie relies also heavily on physical humor. No subtlety here, as the pratfalls, knees to the crotch, and blows to the head make you wince and cringe, and this time not just at the movie’s script. Some times there’s just nothing better than a well-paced kick in the twigs and berries.
Which, I guess, is as good a place as any to end this review. Let’s just consider Superhero Movie a well-placed kick to the intellectual nether regions. Your intellect has never had a better time getting kneed.
One final thing: stay for the credits. You’ll be treated to such memorable moments as a touching (literally) rendition of Wolverine getting his southern hemisphere wiped clean.
As Stan The Man might say: Excelsiargh!