‘Super’ goes from funny to fatal

Posted: April 14, 2011

"Super" stars Rainn Wilson as a jilted loner who hears a heavenly voice that instructs him to be a costumed crimefighter.

We'll avoid the term "superhero" since he has no superpowers - he walks up to bad guys and hits them over the head with a plumber's wrench. It's the only tool in his utility belt.

All of this is presented with a gory, punk realism by writer-director James Gunn, a Troma films grad who explored vaguely similar superhero ideas with his "The Specials."

His new movie has more in common with elements of "Kick Ass" - Frank (Wilson) is a naive wannabe with a badly stitched suit who gets in over his head and is bailed out by a female "sidekick" with more drive and confidence.

Here, the role goes to Ellen Page, playing a comix store worker whose obsession with superheroes stems from an unnervingly vicious vigilante streak, one that surfaces as the movie becomes increasingly, startlingly violent (while maintaining its offbeat sense of humor).

Imagine "Kick Ass" complicated by the far darker power fantasies of "Observe and Report," and you have some idea where Gunn goes with this material.

To all of that you can add some very strange psychosexual elements - Wilson and Page do things that you probably don't want to see them do, at least not with each other. If Page took this role to banish her "Juno" persona forever, she has succeeded (she returns to her "Hard Candy" roots).

Wilson also has encounters with Liv Tyler, cast as the woman who ditches him for a local crime figure (Kevin Bacon!), a thug who reintroduces her to heroin and pimps her out to suppliers.

Frank has revenge in mind, but his inspiration is spiritual. A superhero modeled after Jesus appears to Frank and gives him his crime-fighting mission. "Super" seems to play this idea initially for laughs (Wilson and Page do well with tricky material), but Gunn ultimately reveals himself to be serious. As Frank escalates into religiously motivated maiming and murder, he's transformed from a twit to a terrorist, justifying all actions as divinely inspired.

I'm not sure Gunn has considered the implications of this, or the way it relates to his strangely satisfied finale.

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