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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Superhero Movie

Seeing David Zucker's name listed as one of the producers of Superhero Movie is kind of like seeing a father standing back and watching while someone beats on his own son. Zucker should be credited as one of the fathers of the modern spoof movie, having had his hand in such classics as Airplane, The Naked Gun, and Top Secret. Giving his approval to this film basically means he no longer cares about his own genre, and is willing to let anyone do anything to it as long as he gets paid. The end result of both the movie and the act of abuse are equally hard to watch.

The abuser in this case is writer and director, Craig Mazin. He takes the familiar and unfortunate approach of taking a popular movie, doing an almost scene-for-scene remake of it, and then adds jokes around bodily fluids to the scenes, hoping we will laugh. We do not, but that doesn't stop Mazin from trying the same thing in every scene, and getting the same failed result. The popular movie being parodied this time around is 2002's Spider-Man. There are also some fleeting nods to other franchises such as X-Men, Fantastic Four, and 1989's Batman, but they're not worth mentioning. Very little in this movie is. The hero of the origin film, Peter Parker, has been replaced with Rick Riker (Drake Bell), a nerdy high school student who has his life turned around when he goes on a school trip to a local science lab, and is bitten by a genetically engineered dragonfly. Before that, though, he gets raped by every animal in the lab for the sole purpose that the movie needs a scene to stretch the boundaries of its PG-13 rating. The bite from said insect gives him super powers, and before long, he's fighting crime as the costumed avenger, Dragonfly.

Rick/Dragonfly's arch nemesis is a mad scientist named Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald), who is dying of a terminal disease, and can only be kept alive by a superpower he develops in a lab accident that enables him to drain the life out of people. With his new powers, he dons an armored suit and calls himself Hourglass. I was greatly disappointed with the approach the movie takes here. With how over the top most villains in comic book movies are (Anyone remember William Dafoe in the original Spider-Man?), you'd think they'd be ripe for satire. The movie wastes every scene it gives its villain, and supplies him with absolutely nothing funny to do. In fact, McDonald seems to be playing the character straight at times, like he thinks he's in a real comic book movie. I understand that parody works best if the actors pretend that the material is not absurd, but there's absolutely no humor in his delivery. What's even sadder is that Leslie Nielsen, an actor who is an expert in the art of treating the absurd as if it were straight drama, also can't do anything with the material he's been given. He shows up as Rick's Uncle Albert, but the movie seems to think his presence is all it needs. We smile when he first appears, because we remember his classic comedy roles. That smile quickly fades when we realize that the movie plans to waste him in a nothing role, and what's worse, is perfectly fine with it.

What always strikes me as odd is that whenever a comedy directly spoofs a popular movie, they often wind up feeling longer than the film that inspired it. Superhero Movie is only 85 minutes long, but feels a lot longer due to the total dead-on-arrival vibe it carries. Spider-Man, on the other hand, ran for two hours, but had liveliness and energy to it that kept things moving. It doesn't help matters that much like this year's other spoof film, Meet the Spartans, the filmmakers here feel the need to drag the ending credits to ridiculous lengths by completely stopping them every once in a while with a good five minutes or so worth of deleted scenes and alternate takes on existing scenes. I sat through the entire end credits, hoping I'd discover some lost piece of treasure that wound up on the cutting room floor, but alas, the stuff they took out is just as bad as they stuff they left in. I don't know why they do this anyway. Do they somehow feel that stretching the film's length to over 90 minutes will miraculously make it a better film? I know if I was involved with this project, I wouldn't appreciate having to sit through an endless string of rejected material before my name came on the screen. Actually, if I was involved with this project, I'd be having a good long talk with my agent.

Like a lot of recent films of its type, Superhero Movie is a botched opportunity, and will only appeal to young children or the easily amused. I once again find myself asking what David Zucker was thinking when he agreed to put his name on this project. Did he really think this laugh-free screenplay lived up to the kind of stuff he used to do? Did he just see it as a throwaway project that he could make money off of? I'm hoping something good will come of this. Maybe he'll see the final product, realize the error of his ways, and knock out a bang-up comedy that revives my faith in the spoof genre. The unfortunate thing is, not only do I find this scenario doubtful, but I also fear that the final product is the movie he agreed to make from the beginning.

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