Super is compared far and wide to Kick-Ass its cousin-of-sorts and people have the right to do that. They’re both films about losers without super powers attempting to become super heroes but that’s where the comparisons can and should end. However I need one more to kick off my review. While they’re both great movies with similar concepts Kick-Ass takes a very stylized comic book approach to the material whereas Super is treated as if it takes place in the real world with real world consequences. Both methods serve their respective narratives well and since we can enjoy both of these movies at the same time without taking away anything from either we don’t have to say which one does the concept better.
The film comes from writer/director James Gunn previously responsible for of all things the awesome Slither and writing the better-than-expected live action Scooby Doo movies. The film follows Frank (Rainn Wilson) a down on his luck diner cook who decides to become a super hero after he watches his girlfriend (Liv Tyler) get taken by the town’s local bad guy (Kevin Bacon) and then is touched by God (literally). He gains the attention of the local comic book store employee (Ellen Page - delightfully dirty) and soon they team up as the Crimson Bolt and Bolty.
Gunn is considered a horror auteur and the film shows his roots. It’s incredibly violent (and I do mean VIOLENT) gory (lots o’blood) and profane (Ellen Page in Juno - eat your heart out!) but also incredibly funny. The potentially off-putting thing about Super is how Gunn manages to weave each aspect into the story seamlessly. But isn’t life like that? One minute you’re laughing while beating up an old lady the next you’re sad because your dog died (none of those things happen in the film but you feel those sentiments within minutes of each other). Some will detract the film for its tonal shifts but that was exactly what Gunn set out to do. And I think he succeeded quite masterfully.
The main thing about this film is that it works. Everything feels real every move feels correct and all the characters are dynamic. While Wilson is playing another sad sack like Dwight Shrute that’s about as similar as the two get. His violent outbursts create a character far removed from anything in Scranton. Page is the surprise ace-in-the-sleeve; she delves into the profanity and gore with glee. Everyone gets their own moment for a big laugh and a big action piece even Nathan Fillion who shows up in a religious subplot involving a Christian superhero. I can’t stress how violent and funny (emphasis on both) this film is and how well it works together.
My only problem is that towards the end it becomes a little too comic book-y (like Kick-Ass) but it is handled in such a realistic way that this is a very small complaint. To sum up I present the notes (as a poem) that I started to take before I gave up and just enjoyed the movie:
Opening sequence - amazing
Burnt burgers give you cancer
Tentacle Rape Porn
Shut up crime!
Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector opens with a man scratching his plumber’s-crack re-using a cotton swab to clean his ear and wearing the sleeveless shirt he uses as a towel. Naturally this is Larry (the Cable Guy) a health inspector. Halfheartedly inspecting the local food joints he’s leading the life that suits him well. But when his boss (Thomas F. Wilson) assigns him a serious-minded female partner (Iris Bahr) his world is turned upside down--or at least made less comfy. Larry’s called in to investigate “some fartin’ Jewish folks” at a swankier restaurant and learns that it’s not an isolated incident. While Larry’s unorthodox methods manage to arouse the interest of a waitress (Megyn Price) with bowel habits that he adores his tactics arouse the ire of the restaurateurs he investigates and it costs him his job. Now he’s forced to do whatever it takes to prove his innocence. Even the D-listers here must’ve gone straight to confession upon accepting these roles to help cushion their bank accounts. Let’s start with Larry the Cable Guy (of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour “Git-R-Done” fame) who is one of the most successful stand-up comics today. He’s right in his element seemingly with fart blanche on toilet humor but to the unconverted he’s a little more than grating. Speaking of grating the (hopefully) affected voice of Bahr makes the movie mostly unlistenable in addition to being unwatchable. But take pity on her for this is no way to jumpstart a movie career. Tony Hale clearly still reeling from the potential cancellation of TV’s Arrested Development (on which he plays Buster) also lowers his star and integrity with an ambiguous character here. And Joe Pantoliano shows his face. The once great character actor reaches a new low with this one even if his performance isn’t all bad. Health Inspector masters the art of the fart. But more disgusting than the settings with which the farts are juxtaposed is the ad nauseam (pun intended) level of over-usage. So congratulations go to along with fart Yoda Larry the Cable Guy director Trent Cooper who makes his feature directorial debut. And might we add what a fart-tastic debut it is! But it’s not all farts ladies and gentleman--all forms of gross-out humor are exploited unlike ever before. On the er serious side the collection of running jokes adds to a few legit laughs. Cooper helms a story that naturally doesn’t work deferring instead to Larry’s natural um charisma. The script offers no segue into Larry’s stand-up persona but anyone who sees this here flick ain’t lookin’ for no dang Oscar winner. Clearly Health Inspector will appeal to Larry’s following but is not meant for those of sound mind.
David Ames (Tom Cruise) lives a charmed life the ultimate golden boy. He's got looks charisma and money--lots of money. David has inherited a multimillion-dollar publishing business from his late father and he could care less about it. He has women buzzing around him like flies including one actress Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) who has more than a crush on him. One fateful night David meets the girl of his dreams Sofia (Penelope Cruz) and has an amazing all-nighter with her where she tells him profound things like "Every minute that passes is an opportunity to turn things around." David finally understands what it means to fall in love and to commit but then abruptly his luck runs out. In the morning David flushed with exhilaration as he leaves Sofia's apartment makes a near-fatal mistake: he gets into a car with Julie who has been following him to smooth things out with her. In one tragic moment his whole life radically changes. He desperately tries to piece things together to get Sofia back but the more he tries the stranger the circumstances become around him especially when he's accused of murder. Soon he's not sure whether what's happening to him is a dream or reality.
Cruise is a great actor when given the right material. His performances in movies such as Born on the Fourth of July and Magnolia show that Cruise has the acting chops to dig in and make it work. Unfortunately Vanilla Sky wasn't the right vehicle for him. Cruise is actually somewhat compelling as the superficial rich guy who falls in love and then deals with his tragic deformity but his performance falls apart halfway through the film as the character spirals into his own private abyss. His co-star Cruz who played the same character in the 1997 Spanish film on which Sky is based Abre Los Ojos is truly a beauty on screen but the chemistry between the two was pretty tame. Somehow Sofia's transition into the English-speaking world lacks passion. In fact the only time Sofia is truly passionate is when she yells at David in Spanish. Diaz does a serviceable job playing the stalker Julie but doesn't really have much screen time. Even the usually good Jason Lee as David's best friend seems wasted. Only Kurt Russell's supporting turn as David's prison therapist hangs together and rings true.
It's painfully obvious writer/director Cameron Crowe did not make this movie from his heart like his other films. Instead he adapted the material from Abre Los Ojos a film about the world of casual sex and young adults taking responsibility for their actions and turned it into this convoluted mess. Sky starts with some promise as Cruise's shallow playboy deals with the increasingly wacky Julie and then falls in love with the beautiful Sofia. The long night David and Sofia spend together is filled with sexual energy (more from their banter though than any real sparks between the actors) and the characters seem alive--just the stuff Crowe thrives on. Even the pain David first goes through after the accident is moving. The wonderful thing about Crowe is he can really write unbelievable dialogue. Sofia has one of the best lines to describe Julie as she watches her pine after David: "She's the saddest girl I've ever seen holding a martini glass." Yet it is clear that if Crowe doesn't feel it in his bones the movie falls flat. Once Sky moves off into the surreal halfway through Crowe loses his touch and you're left scratching your head saying "Huh?"