In Super, when a local crime boss (Kevin Bacon) lures away his wife (Liv Tyler), lifelong pushover Frank (Rainn Wilson) -- under the influence of a bizarre Christian kids' TV show and a sci-fi-style encounter with something like God -- starts to make himself over into a real-life superhero. On discovering that the weird guy who frequents her comic-book store is, in fact, the masked man making his way into the papers as the Crimson Bolt, young nerd Libby (Ellen Page) insinuates herself as his sidekick and would-be girlfriend. Superwriter/director James Gunn (scripter of the Scooby-Doo movies, the auteur behind Slither) launched his career working for Troma, and the best bits of this fanboy culture decon job bare the unmistakable trace of the venerable no-budget brand behind socially engaged schlock-satire such as Poultrygeistand The Toxic Avenger. Conceptually similar to last spring's bullied-teen-dons-tights-to-fight flick Kick-Ass, Superdistinguishes itself with a deliberate tonal unevenness that's unsettling and annoying. By foregrounding the problematic muddling of fantasy and reality inherent in his premise, Gunn successfully shifts between celebrating violence and mourning it, but his handling of emotional evolution is clumsier; he seems particularly out of his depth in the film's mawkish ending. But Page is a revelation: There isn't another gorgeous twentysomething actress working today who could more convincingly reveal sexual bravado to be simultaneously silly and creepy.
April 22-May 4, 2011