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Growing up it is perfectly natural for a child to pretend to be a super hero. We would take an old towel from our mother’s cleaning rags, draw a big letter ‘S’ on it and tie it around our necks imagining we were Superman. Of course there were always a couple of kids that preferred to play Bat-Man and there was always wonder-Woman for the more adventurous girls in the neighborhood. In most cases we leave such childish pursuits behind as we mature but the film ‘Super’ considers a case where that progression is not achieved. The film poses an interesting hypothesis; suppose an adult attempts to become a costumed super hero. Most of us have entertained this idea although no one capable of passing a psychological evaluation persisted with the concept pass the idle day dream stage. Fortunately, this film was crafted in the wonderfully bizarre corner of the world of independent movies. The studios would be highly reticent to approve a consideration of a topic that could be seen as restricted in interest to a relatively small portion of the general audience. This movie is odd enough to make classification more difficult than usual. It exhibits the classic elements of drama and comedy although black comedy is a much better fit here. On the surface it presents itself as a farce but the measure of pathos generated by the characters elevates it above the usual examples of that genre. Initially you might think it’s a silly flick that somehow managed to attract an incredibly talented cast but a closer examination will reveal something with considerably more depth. Ultimately the film presents a psychological profile of a couple of lamentably damaged people just trying to find what we all seek; a position of worth and value in the world. It reaches past the superficial foolishness to form a bond with the audience based on a common understanding of motivation. In many ways this film represents a cinematic experiment that handily succeeded. It is also a platform for some of the best dark comedy performances that I’ve seen in years. This also makes this a film not to miss. Just keep in mind it may take a couple of viewings before you can achieve the proper mind set to completely get the filmmaker’s intentions but it is well worth it.

Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is a simple man. In his particular case the term extends beyond an unadorned life style to pertain to an almost child-like simplicity of mind and perception. Although marginally capable of existing in the adult world he has never quite been able to fully embrace it. Approaching a mundane middle age has brought him only two moments of pride. The first is pointing the police in the directing of a fleeing purse snatcher, the second marrying entirely out of his league to Sarah (Liv Tyler). Far too beautiful for a man with deserting hair line and advancing mid section she runs off the nefarious proprietor of a seedy strip club, Jacques (Kevin Bacon). In short order he has hooked the beautiful Sarah on drugs and turning out to low life business acquaintances. Frank has immortalized his two best moments the only way his immature mind can comprehend, crudely made crayon drawings, and hung on his wall in order to inspire him. The crayon renderings is a nice touch by writer/director James Gunn to establish the deficient mental and emotional state of Frank; basically a petulant man-child. Feed up and clinically depressed Frank decides to do something about the crime that sullies the world around him. That unclean environment is presented by Jacques’ corruption of the Frank’s symbol of purity, Sarah. Cobbling together a crude red uniform Frank takes to the streets as the costumed vigilante, The Crimson Bolt. He sets out to take on the criminal elements with his battle cry; ‘Shut up crime!’ he gets his inspiration from a cheaply made public access TV show, ‘The Holy Avenger’ (Nathan Fillion) who fervently fights sin in our society. Under the delusion that his actions as the Red Bolt to be a godly sanctioned crusaded he sallies forth with renewed vigor. After a few subsequent thrashings at the hand of neighborhood thugs Frank decides to research super heroes at the local comic book shop. It is there he meets Libby (Ellen Page) the diminutive, foul mouth clerk who winds up wanting to join him as his side kick, Boltie. Frank’s weapon of choice is a plumber’s wrench which he wields with brutal passion. The local TV catches on to his story which primarily consists of him beating anyone that irks to within an inch of their lives for ‘offenses’ ranging from keying a car to cutting into a line. The public is split between distain for his excessive reactions to embracing someone taking a stand.

A considerable portion of the film’s story focuses on the bizarre co-dependent relationship between Frank and Libby. Both of them are certifiably mentally disturbed. Both should be legally committed to mandatory in-patient psychiatric care. Frank is delusional with anger management issues exacerbated by compulsive behavior. Libby is hyper sexual and extremely violent psychopath intent of stopping crime primarily through the infliction of extremely cruel and painful deaths to the wrong doers. Page has become one of the most versatile actresses to come out of Independent movies since Christina Ricci. This tiny Canadian actor has time and again demonstrated incredible range that runs the gamut from pregnant teen to a roller derby queen of the rink. Here she channels a remarkably dark side that her fans have not seen since one of her earliest movies, ‘Hard Candy’. To witness such foul dialogue and seriously deranged thoughts emerge from a little young woman with girl next door good looks is a juxtaposition that represents brilliant casting. When combined with the well honed dead pan delivery perfected by Wilson and you have a film worth watch on those merits alone. Gunn has been a hard working writer and director involved with many quirky Indy movies. His style typically morphs to accommodate the requirements of the genre he is currently working on with a notable constant. He seems to enjoy thumbing his nose at established archetypes including them for the sole purpose of twisting them into a dark reflection of what the audience expects. A constant feature of his films is the inclusion of his brother Sean Gunn. He is a well respected character actor on his own and perhaps best known for his long running role as star’s Hollow’s most eclectic citizen, Kirk. Some have paned this movie as pedantic but I did not get that vibe at all. you may have to stretch your memories back to those summer days wearing a towel-cape but once you achieve that and get what Gunn is doing you are going to have a new film you will go back to when you need a touch of dark entertainment in your life.

Posted 09/06/11

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