2011, NR, 96 min. Directed by James Gunn. Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 29, 2011
While the shaky cam has mercifully fallen out of favor as contemporary filmmakers' weapon of choice, I worry it's been replaced by a buzzing camera; Super, at least, looks like it was shot from atop a running engine. The intention perhaps is to affect the hum and thrum of life, but writer/director James Gunn's layer cake of hallucinations, comic-book call-outs, emotional artifice, and faux catharsis produces the opposite effect – nothing here seems tethered to real life or real feeling. Wilson, best known as The Office's cagey, perma-smirking Dwight Schrute, plays Frank, a short-order cook who spirals into a depression when his wife Sarah (Tyler) abandons their marital bed to take up with her dealer, Jacques (Bacon). Desperate to retrieve his wife, Frank scissors together a superhero costume and calls himself the Crimson Bolt – "Shut up, crime," is his catchphrase, and Wilson kills it every time – and he also takes on a horny, hyperactive teen sidekick named Boltie (Page). Astute viewers will wonder how schlumpy Frank ever nabbed a stunner like Sarah, but Gunn delays the answer until an ill-fitting flashback that appears in an emergent pattern of nonsensical structuring. It's as if Gunn accidentally dropped his neatly ordered scene index cards and then reshuffled them willy-nilly – which might explain how a delicately played moment of sexual tension frictioning with raw grief is immediately chased with a hammy montage set at a gun store. In his unflinching attention to the aftermath of a superhero's well-placed punch – the dripping viscera and bashed-in skulls, overlaid with a descriptive thwack! and color panels – Gunn is angling at something interesting here (possibly even as a rejoinder to the ramification-free Kick-Ass), but lands far wide of the mark. Super is a tonal hash, awkwardly skipping beats from bleak to boisterous, cartoonish to gruesome, and the actors, too, seem to be playing at different speeds, with Page's insufferable screechiness poorly squaring with Wilson's glum poker face. Most damningly, there's not a character within that's worth giving a damn about, which renders the climactic bloodbath a curio at once repugnant and tiresome. There are kernels here of a thoughtful and provocative picture, but they never pop – or pop!, for that matter. (For an interview with the director, see "He Needed a Hero," March 11.)