Anyone hoping for a ray of sunshine through all the dank, dark clouds that have made up the recent rash of genre spoofs -- Scary Movie, Epic Movie
, Meet the Spartans
-- should semi-celebrate. Superhero Movie is not the heinous hunk of landfill those other attempts at humor represent. Instead, it's a seldom hit/often miss attempt by some former members of the Airplane! team to recapture a little of that film's old school satire. While much more successful, there's still a dearth of legitimate laughs to be found among the filler and failed lampoons.
High school nerd Rick Riker (Drake Bell
) pines for popular gal Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton
), and she holds a secret torch for him as well. Still, the couple can't get together, and while on a field trip to a local science lab, Rick is bitten by a radioactive insect. Soon, he has superpowers, like incredible reflexes and the ability to climb walls. He becomes the Dragonfly. Meanwhile, mogul Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald
) is dying and looks to an experimental DNA treatment to cure him. The procedure backfires, turning the CEO into a life force draining demon. In order to achieve immortality, thousands must die, and while Landers develops an evil persona known as the Hourglass to achieve his aims, Rick tries to save the city -- and get the girl -- at the same time. Article continues below
The first thing that's shocking about Superhero Movie is how quasi-coherent it is. Writer/director Craig Mazin
, who cut his cinematic teeth on the likable James Gunn comic book comedy The Specials, does a good job of channeling Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman Begins, without going whole hog into pointless pop culture minutia. Sure, the questionable riffs are here, the Tom Cruise
/Scientology joke being so inside as to warrant a shoulder shrug of recognition. Similarly, the non-webslinger material gets short shrift, tossed at the screen in dribs and drabs without being explored to its fullest.
Another noticeable improvement comes from the casting of Drake Bell as Rick Riker. Having spent the last nine years under Nickelodeon's kid-friendly tutelage (he was part of the immensely popular tween hits The Amanda Show and Drake and Josh) the very likable young actor has been looking for a film role to push him further out into the mainstream. His wonderful work here just might do it. Bell does a tremendous job of being both a first-rate physical comedian and a dependable A-level lead. Sure, the script fails him time and time again, but we never see the desperation that's come with so many of these off-balance efforts.
Of course, the many remaining missteps ruin everything. Leslie Nielsen is just too old now to pull off slapstick stumbles and deadpan sexual entendres. Along with Happy Days' Marion Ross reduced to playing senile and extremely flatulent, Pamela Anderson flashing her balloons, and the always over-the-top Regina Bell screeching her minor part as an angry Mrs. Xavier, it's the formulaic expectations of the series that subverts any attempt at originality. While cameos from Brent Spiner
and Robert Hayes are fun, McDonald's Hourglass chews the scenery with no apparent rhyme or reason. It's like he's been over-caffeinated and simply needs to vent.
Still, if future installments follow Mazin's concept and simply stick with making fun of specific cinematic types instead of whatever randomly falls down the YouTube/Facebook pipeline (though what could possibly be left?), the next of these unnecessary Movies might not be yet another sign of the entertainment Apocalypse. In fact, Superhero Movie should be taken as a well-meaning but ultimately uneven lesson in how to handle future parodies.