Super

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Super
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Frank (Rainn Wilson) is an average, happily married Joe - until his former alcoholic/drug addict wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) dumps him and runs away with drug kingpin Jacques (Kevin Bacon). He is deep in the dumps and comes up with a crazy way to get her back. He creates the costume and persona of a brand new super hero, the pipe wrench-wielding Crimson Bolt. He aims to rid the streets of crime, including Jacques, and win back Sarah in “Super.”

Robin:
Sophomore writer-director James Gunn (“Slither (2006)”) hits one out of the park with a completely different kind of super hero movie. No super powers are used in the telling of Frank’s story as it all begins with drug lord slime ball Jacques stealing Sarah away from him. He is left in despair and does not know which way to turn until, while watching Jesus TV, he sees the program, “The Holy Avenger.” This Christian super hero espouses thwarting the Devil and his evil minion for God (voice of Rob Zombie). This proves to be an epiphany for Frank and, shortly after, the Crimson Bolt is born.

Black, black humor pervades the story as the violence starts out pretty bloodless as the Crimson Bolt tests his crime fighting skills. With the help of comic book clerk (and super hero expert) Libby (Ellen Page), though she does not she is aiding in the creation of CB, he begins to stalk to mean streets looking for crime. His pipe wrench proves an effective weapon for crime (and head) busting and the crimson costumed super hero begins getting headlines. Libby figures out that her tutoring Frank in all things super and the rise of the Crimson Bolt are not a coincidence. Soon, she convinces the reluctant Frank that what he needs is a side kick. She even comes up with a name for her – Boltie.

This is a perfect role for the comedic talents of Rainn Wilson who grabs the possibilities of his dual characters of Frank and alter ego Crimson Bolt. The actor handles the pratfalls with aplomb and he holds center stage for the first 30 minutes. Then Ellen Page appears as Libby, who Frank turns to help him create his super hero persona. The young actress steals much of the rest of the film with her hyper, funny dialog and comic physicality, further proving her abilities for comedy.

The support cast is made up with veteran actors. Liv Tyler gives a sympathetic turn as Sarah, duped by Jacques and used to test his drugs before he buys them. Kevin Bacon is suitably slimy as Jacques and gives his bad guy a comic book evil. Michael Rooker (where has he been?) is capable but under utilized as Jacques lead henchman, Abe. Nathan Fillion is a riot as the Christian TV Holy Avenger. The rest of the mostly unknown help flesh out the background characters to appropriate comic book levels.

This is subversive comedy at its best and has many laugh out load moments, a rare thing in Hollywood comedies. Then again, this is not a Hollywood comedy. As I said, the violence starts out relatively bloodless. But, as the Crimson Bolt and Boltie rid the streets of crime, things get a bit Gory as CB wields his wrench against drug dealers, thieves and a gutting cutting in a movie line. This is hardcore super hero stuff that pulls no punch so those that are squeamish may want to avoid “Super.” However, those who can appreciate the black humor pervading the film will have a ball. I give it an A-.

Laura:
Frank (Rainn Wilson, TV's 'The Office') has reminders posted of the two perfect moments in his life - marrying Sarah (Liv Tyler, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy), a former drug addict, and aiding police chasing a criminal.  But when Sarah falls under the spell of drug lord Jacques (Kevin Bacon) and leaves him, Frank, inspired by religious show 'The Holy Avenger,' decides to fight crime to win her back as The Crimson Bolt in "Super."

Writer/director James Gunn ("Slither"), who also cameos as the tongue wielding devil to Nathan Fillion's (TV's 'Firefly,' 'Castle') Holy Avenger, has come up with a refreshing spin on the superhero genre.  The word 'subversive' is about to get a major workout.  Far better than last year's "Kick Ass," "Super" pairs Frank's religiously righteous vigilante The Crimson Bolt with sidekick Libby (Ellen Page, "Juno," "Inception"), a comic book nerd aroused by violence who auditions as The Creeping Bam but ends up as Boltie.

Gunn's written dorky dialogue for his superhero leads that they deliver with deadpan intensity. His bad guys, whether it be his own televised Demonswill or Bacon's Jacques define seedy schmarm. And yet he has Tyler play Sarah straight, a damaged angel who elicits real sympathy.  Perhaps most amazing is a flashback sex scene between her and Wilson that's genuinely moving.

But it is the outrageous violence inflicted on such criminals as movie line jumpers and car keyers that make us gasp.  Frank carries a wrench and he's not afraid to use it.  Libby is a psychopath unleashed and hot for teacher and Frank works to rein both in, not always successfully.  In addition to the off kilter dialogue and unflinching violence, Gunn uses a playful hammer to announce locales (PUBLIC LIBRARY is emblazoned across a librarian's laptop screen, a firearms store boasts a 'Massive Gun Sale' banner) and the 'Kapow' style animation of TV's old 'Batman' series, here splattered with gore.  Costumes are hilariously low rent, including the female wig Fillion's forced to wear over his yellow suit, but special f/x are well executed.

Wilson is perfectly cast as a loser (he works as a short order cook in a diner) who couldn't believe his luck until he lost it and turns to God.  Ellen Page has never been better, letting her inner nerdy nutso out, but completely in keeping with the tone of Gunn's film.  This role must have been as physically demanding as "Whip It," whether she's doing cartwheels or waggling her butt to entice Frank.  "The Wire's" Andre Royo adds some amusement as Frank's lazy coworker Hamilton and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer's" Michael Rooker plays one of Jacques' henchmen.

With "Super," you could conjecture that Gunn's making a statement about how religion spawns violence, but the film's too much fun to go there, even with its Christian values front and center.  This pitch black comedy is destined for cult status.

B+
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