'Super': A loser becomes a caped crusader

Haven't we seen this before?

Yes, Super - in which a dweeb becomes a crime-fighting caped crusader - has so many echoes of last year's Kick-Ass that the reverberations will dog you until the cows come home. Or until the next issue of Batman hits the comic-book stores, at least.

What distinguishes the two, however, apart from budget and provenance, is a level of cynicism that's radioactive. Kick-Ass, with its potty-mouthed pip-squeak heroine and thumping violence, nonetheless displayed a serious affection for its characters and a spirit of reckless fun. Super, which comes from writer-director James Gunn, a guy schooled at the B-movie schlock factory Troma Studios, demonstrates a sicko sense of humor (and that can be OK) and an absolute contempt for everybody in his film (that's hard to take).

Rainn Wilson, of The Office, stars as Frank D'Arbo, a short-order cook who's pretty much a total loser except he has somehow managed to win the affection of the dreamy-eyed Sarah (Liv Tyler), a waitress at the diner. The two share an apartment and some good memories, but then one day Sarah, an alcoholic, ups and leaves. She's fallen off the wagon, and fallen in with a strip-club proprietor and dealer named Jacques (Kevin Bacon, playing it sleazy and sinister).

This sends the already downcast Frank into a total funk.

But after watching a religious program about a Bible-thumping superhero, Frank is inspired. He designs a ridiculous costume and takes to the streets, taking out his wrath and rage on hoods and thugs. He calls himself the Crimson Bolt, and whacks his unwitting prey with a wrench. The TV stations and newspapers get wind of this vigilante business, and a comics-shop employee, Libby (Ellen Page), befriends Frank and then joins him as his avenging sidekick. Her name: Boltie.

Shot on the cheap, with cheesy animated credits and comic-panel "Bams!" and "Pows!" splashed across the screen, Super has a jokey, low-rent quality (or lack of quality) that could be endearing, if Wilson's performance weren't so nihilistically dull, and if there were somebody in the picture who had a soul.

True to his roots, Gunn throws in wild, on-the-cheap effects, and doesn't hesitate to maim and dismember all parties concerned. Even the one cast member whom maybe we care about - there's an anything-goes wit in the performance - gets blown away. Brutally.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/    


Directed by James Gunn. With Liv Tyler, Andre Royo, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, Stephen Blackehart, Gregg Henry, Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon. Distributed by IFC Midnight.

Running time: 1 hours, 36 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().