Dir: Craig Mazin. US. 2008. 86 mins.
For the most part a dispiriting, tedious send-up of superhero story cliches, Superhero Movie starts out with a full head of steam but quickly flags, struggling to fill out both its costume and its running time. Like the worst of its downmarket, quick-buck spoof brethren, the film isn't so much a satire or even clever re-contextualisation of well-worn story threads as a clamorous regurgitation, with just more flatulence jokes.
Despite playing at 300 more theaters than ensemble blackjack picture 21, Superhero Movie, which didn't screen in advance for critics, placed third for the weekend, ringing up an estimated $9.4 million at just over 2,960 venues. That total was well off the pace of fellow genre spoofs Meet The Spartans and Epic Movie, which each grossed more than double that amount en route to final domestic tallies in the high $30 millions. Seemingly a rare case of a proper snap judgment by the marketplace at large, Superhero Movie will eke out the bulk of the rest of its modest earnings via pay-cable and ancillary outlets.
Centred on Spider-Man, with a pinch of Batman's parents' deaths as an extra source of 'motivation', the film's story centers around Rick Riker (Drake Bell, of TV's Drake & Josh), a gangly high school student who lives with his aunt and uncle and nurses a crush on his knockout next-door neighbor, Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton). After being bitten by a genetically altered bug on a school field trip, Rick finds himself blessed with superpowers, and gets caught up in a life of crime-fighting as Dragonfly. Naturally, his path crosses with Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald), the uncle of a classmate and the terminally ill CEO of a pharmaceuticals company who tests out a new drug invention and develops a maniacal, bloodthirsty alter ego.
One doesn't head to a spoof like Superhero Movie for artful interplay or newly-tilled narrative terrain, but the laugh quotient here feels especially padded, and the film needs an extended, very slow crawl of closing credit out-takes to even crack the 80-minute mark. Some of the bigger names in the movie, featured prominently on the poster (Pamela Anderson, Craig Bierko, Simon Rex) are reduced to single-scene appearances of far less than a minute, while others (Tracy Morgan) seem to play characters whose comic potential is not fully tapped.
Writer-director Craig Mazin did script duty on the last two Scary Movies (in addition to Senseless and RocketMan), so he in theory knows about both stitching referential jokes together and tailoring material for specific stars. His script here, though, seems designed to have garnered an initial production green light, and little more. After the first 20 to 25 minutes scene ideas (like Dragonfly bumping into another superhero at his new rooftop brooding spot) are either dashed through in unfulfilled fashion or discarded altogether, in favor of spoofs of public figures such as Stephen Hawking, Barry Bonds, Tom Cruise and Nelson Mandela.
Back in the director's chair for the first time since 2000's independently produced superhero spoof The Specials, Mazin evidences no great skill one way or another. To his nominal credit, he doesn't solely reference other movies, and he does endeavor to work in a number of visual gags to supplement the writing. The mad-dash pace, though, wrecks Superhero Movie, along with slapstick sequences with no lasting (or even immediate) consequences.
Bell is passable but somewhat unmemorable as the lead. Special note, though, goes to Miles Fisher, who nails the vocal intonations of Tom Cruise in his parody of a sit-down interview.
Technical credits are for the most part adequate, with James L. Venable's opening score providing a credible appropriation of manufactured comic book-style emotional uplift. Likewise, Bob Ziembicki's budget production design does a capable job of subtly, smartly recreating spaces from the Spider-Man, X-Men and Batman franchises.
On the downside, a cash infusion for some more effects work would have given the movie a slickness that it's missing.
The Weinstein Company
Robert K. Weiss
Director of photography
James L. Venable