9 First Impressions of Rainn Wilson's Instant Cult Classic SUPER
James Gunn's SUPER just concluded its Midnight Madness world premiere, and if there's any early favorite on that list of bidding-war candidates coming out of Toronto, this would probably be the one. I'll have more on this one later from the ground, but for now, some first -- i.e. lasting -- impressions of what promises to be the effed-up belle of the ball...
[Light spoilers follow]
1. Remember that movie Kick-Ass? About that kid and his cohort of ordinary folks who strive to battle crime in bad costumes and without the benefit of superpowers? Yeah, well, you probably won't after this.
2. The economy of the set-up is brilliant: Loser Frank meets girl/recovering addict Sarah (Liv Tyler). Loser marries girl. Girl falls off the wagon and into the arms of local drug lord (Kevin Bacon). Loser prays for reconciliation. Losers prayers are answered -- and how. In and out in about 15 minutes.
3. Oh, so that's what Rainn Wilson's brain looks like. I seriously hope I never get touched by the finger of God, even if it means also never coming into contact with Nathan Fillion's awesome Holy Avenger.
4. I'll put $50 on "Shut up, crime!" as the poster tagline and T-shirt catchphrase of the future. It has a little better ring than, "Don't molest kids!"
5. All these "gay" and "faggot" and prison-rape jokes, James Gunn? Really? Weirder still is hearing them out of the mouth of Ellen Page. Not that this film has (or should have) a politically correct bone in its body, but it's just so... easy, and jarringly out of character for a film that so brilliantly subverts the entitlement and self-importance of comic-book superhero convention.
6. Finally, the right role for Rainn Wilson. His depressed widower sad-sack in Rebel (née Hesher) was a surprising and effective supporting turn, but Frank/The Crimson Bolt is so much more in line with the leading man he can be: Deadpan angry with an undercurrent of pathos and the slow burn of characters always about to turn a corner. It reminds me of Robin Williams digging into Good Morning Vietnam after the unholy misfire that was Club Paradise, just with more weapons and nihilism. The last shot is priceless.
7. And cheap homo gags aside, let's give it up for Gunn: This guy is a real filmmaker, and just the latest proof that anyone serious about going into character-driven horror-comedy should enlist with Lloyd Kaufman as a Troma Films apprentice, like, yesterday. Just when you think he's not going to go somewhere, he goes there: Shocking violence, sidekick sex, dark twists, an optimistic gut-punch ending and a spirit of wicked mayhem just barely constrained by his hero's code of honor. The Crimson Bolt is much more Dirty Harry than Dark Knight, and Gunn is the Christopher Nolan of cult. Who even needs rolling Parisian streets when you can frame such exquisite over-the-shoulder close-ups of Wilson and Page, loaded with the transference of authority and, sure, the practical effect of wiping out their height difference -- until he needs that difference for the story, switching to the two-shot. The impact is kind of breathtaking.
8. OK, so: Ellen Page. Another superb bit of casting, and goes go all the way with the role of friend and sidekick Libby -- geeky, vengeful and hypermoral, at least until her wildly oversexed attempts to seduce Frank culminate in an inventive (and hilarious) circumvention of his fidelity to Sarah. I don't want to spoil this scene; let it suffice to say that it's not cheating if the Crimson Bolt screws Boltie. Gunn probably lets her get away with a little too much whining, but Page's genuineness, gameness and previously untapped knack for awkward physical comedy leaven all the pitchiness.
9. No movie featuring a giant, fire-breathing cartoon Michael Rooker terrorizing a small town in the opening credits can possibly suck. That is all.