Superhero Movie
The Weinstein Company // Unrated // $29.95 // July 8, 2008
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted July 21, 2008
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The Movie:
Oh, how far the lowly stupid joke has fallen. Where once we had Barbara Billingsley speaking jive, now we have Marion Ross giving advice on oral sex hygiene. That devolution is pretty much endemic of Superhero Movie, which continues the--er, proud tradition of taking a genre and squeezing out every possible, and even some impossible, jokes from it. With a production crew and cast with credits like everything from Airplane! to Scary Movie, you can pretty much guess what you'll get in this film. But the fact is, even knowing beforehand that everything including the kitchen sink (well, a school drinking fountain, anyway) will get skewered doesn't keep Superhero Movie from being very, very funny at times. At others, of course, it just sort of lays there, sinking under the weight of its surely sophomoric humor. And, yes, I did call it Shirley.

The film culls most of its plot from Spiderman, with an occasional side trip to X-Men for a few extra gags, working in a wide variety of cultural touchstones for a good ribbing. The very likable Drake Bell portrays Rick Riker, the class nerd who gets bitten by a dragonfly at a genetic mutation lab, which ultimately transforms him into, yep, you guessed it, Dragonfly, a spandex-clad superhero who luckily is not fatally drawn to bug zappers. Christopher McDonald is on hand as chief nemesis Lou Landers, who, through a Doctor Octopus sort of machinated mishap, becomes baddie Hourglass, intent on achieving immortality by sucking the lifeforce out of every human being within screaming distance.

So there you have the set up, for what it's worth. What you end up getting are good old standbys like the requisite old people jokes courtesy of Rick's Aunt (Ross) and Uncle (Leslie Nielsen, who's made a late career cottage industry out of these sorts of things), including, of course, punchlines about male genital size and extreme flatulence. But there are some clever asides in this which at times have little or nothing to do with the actual goings-on. When Rick goes online to look up the symptoms he's experiencing, he gets caught in a very funny spoof of WebMD, something mirrored a little later when he's looking online for a used car. His attempt to craft a stretchy costume also comes in for some yucks when he forgets to carve holes for his nose or eyes. My favorite bit, one of the most tangential of the film, is a spot-on Miles Fisher as Tom "Mr. Scientology" Cruise, in a take-off of that video interview that was a staple on You Tube some months ago.

The X Men tangent is mostly listless, with a just plain silly Tracy Morgan as Professor Xavier, whose wheelchair morphs into various other moving objects in one of the lamest gags. The scene with his bald, wheelchaired wife and similarly handicapped children is uncomfortable, and worse, unfunny. Sara Paxton as love interest Jill is an eyeful, but gets little to do other than react to various mayhem occurring around her. (Oh, wait, she does do a striptease in her bedroom, so I take that all back).

But it's the great non sequiturs, verbal and visual, something that was so wonderful in Airplane!, that provide the most consistent laughs here. When Landers asks Riker how his parents are and Riker responds that they were brutally murdered nine years ago (a tip of the hat to Batman of course), Landers, without missing a beat, responds, "But otherwise--OK?". And Jeffrey Tambor is perfect as a dimwitted Doctor tending to Uncle Albert (a tip of the hat to The Beatles, I guess), who, after admonishing Rick not to depress the elderly man with any bad news after Aunt Lucille has been killed, walks in and says, "No, your dead wife isn't coming."

Of course there are also buckets full of politically incorrect jokes, including an (I'm almost ashamed to admit) hilarious running gag featuring "Stephen Hawking," as well as not especially veiled reference to more genitalia than you can--um, shake a stick at. This extended version is most certainly not for younger children for a variety of reasons.


Superhero Movie is presented in a very sharp, enhanced 1.78:1 transfer. Colors, saturation and contrast are all excellent.

The DD 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly robust, with excellent separation and fidelity. Even the low end gets at least an occasional workout here with some sound effects sequences that will momentarily leave your floor vibrating. There are English and Spanish subtitles available.

A nice selection of extras augment the main feature. The commentary by writer/director Craig Mazin and Producers David Zucker and Robert Weiss is a joke-laden affair (you expected otherwise?), mixed with a little melancholy in that this project didn't exactly go they way they had originally intended. There is also a finished alternate ending, complete with special effects, as well as a plethora of deleted scenes (the funniest for me being, again, an unseen section of the Tom Cruise spoof). Two featurettes, "Meet the Cast" and "The Art of Spoofing," and the theatrical trailer, round out the extras.

Final Thoughts:
If this never quite achieves the blissful inanity of Airplane! or even the better moments of the various Scary Movie franchise, it provides some considerable laughs along the way and should make a decent evening's rental.

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