Writer-director-producer-editor-star-designer-casting director … statistically speaking, that many hyphens should guarantee that Christopher Farley’s “Atom Nine Adventures” is either a monumental ego trip, woefully amateurish, or both. But instead, this nearly one-man effort, billed as “the independent superhero movie,” emerges a charming and surprisingly polished all-ages fantasy that delivers a fair approximation (without the bloat) of similar major studio comicbook exercises that typically cost, say, six thousand times its budget. Too modest for multiplexes and too wholesomely populist for arthouses, “Atom” seems a theatrical longshot, but a smart pickup for cablers and DVD distribs.
A Clark Kent-like movie-scientist hero, flustered, bespectacled Dr. Adam Gaines (Farley) and his mischievous robot assistant Jimbot (a floating orb voiced by Paul Meade) track a meteorite fragment as it falls in a forested area. Taking it back to the officially shuttered lab he used to work for, Gaines discovers it contains an “ice cocoon” that soon births an iron-based critter that looks like a silver seahorse, and whose DNA includes what may well be the 27 billion-year-old “primeval atom” that created the Big Bang.
Unfortunately, the evil Gremlo Flugg (a droll Colin Armstrong) also covets these materials. Flugg’s cloned minions invade the lab, attempting to steal the goods, and kidnap Adam’s colleague-cum-almost-g.f. Margo (Jennifer Ferguson). The “metallic parasite” has escaped capture, however, and it not only heals the terminally wounded Gaines, but imbues him with superpowers that include flight — and the usual snazzy latex costume. Meanwhile Flugg, between unsuccessful amorous overtures toward Margo, demonstrates his new atomic might by using a “Doom Machine” to draw the moon into a collision course with Earth. It is up to Adam, aka Atom Nine, to save the girl, the planet and the day.
Starting out in “Indiana Jones” territory then moving rapidly into more “Flash Gordon”-type terrain, “Adventures” has a genially good-humored approach to genre conventions that render credibility questions moot. (How Atom Nine solves the moon problem is inspired in its ludicrous simplicity.) But it’s not campy or an outright parody, either. And its earnest fantasy aspects are delivered well enough that kids not too spoiled by gargantuan mainstream versions of similar material will enjoy it.
Leads are affable, tech aspects polished, and bluescreen/3-D animation FX designed by Farley himself are impressive — in fact quite astounding, considering that half the pic’s meager budget was spent on Robert Gulya’s John Williams-esque orchestral score and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. A closing tag promises a sequel.