Given the abysmal quality of recent spoof pics, it’s saying something that “Superhero Movie” provides a fairly steady stream of midsized laughs — and even the 40% or so of the gags that just lie there aren’t actively painful. This comicbook actioner sendup should do solid if unspectacular biz.
Primary model/target here is the first “Spider-Man” movie. High school dweeb Rick Riker (Drake Bell, of Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh”) has lived with dear Aunt Lucille (Marion Ross) and Uncle Albert (Leslie Nielsen) since his parents died. He’s in love with the girl next door, Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton), but she barely knows he exists and is dating jerk jock Lance (Ryan Hansen).
On a school field trip to a local manufacturer, Amalgamated Pharmaceuticals, Rick is accidentally spritzed with a powerful artificial pheromone, which attracts unwelcome amorous attention from the lab’s entire range of genetically modified animals.
One of them is a dragonfly that bites Rick, who, once he’s regained consciousness, seems to have gained superpowers — including, natch, the ability to climb up walls with his super-grip. (Though that grip, of course, also leads to some embarrassing hands-on-the-wrong-thing experiences.)
Rick begins fighting crime across Empire City as the mysterious costumed Dragonfly. Meanwhile, jock Lance’s uncle and Amalgamated CEO Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald), who is terminally ill but seeks immortality, plans a mass murder coinciding with the city’s hosting of the World Humanity Awards.
Climax at latter event allows for cameo appearances by an ersatz Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and others, following earlier ones by a foul voice-boxed Stephen Hawking (Robert Joy) and berserk Tom Cruise (Miles Fisher, who’s so good maybe the sequel should be “Tom Cruise Movie”).
Writer-helmer Craig Mazin –whose prior directorial feature was another superhero spoof, “The Specials” (2000), and who, like several others here, is a vet of the “Scary Movie” franchise — keeps things slick and brisk. Very brisk, in fact: Without lengthy end credits that break for inclusion of numerous deleted gags (rather than bloopers), “Superhero Movie” would barely nudge past 70 minutes. Still, 70 minutes of good if unmemorable fun sure beats 80 or 90 minutes of excruciating parodies for dummies, a la “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie.”
While “Superhero Movie” has its share of rote slapstick and scatological jokes (though one urination bit is actually a highlight), Mazin does think beyond the midget-throwing, accidental-dude-kissing, other-movie-referencing box.
Perfs are solid if seldom inspired. Tracy Morgan provides one of the better turns (as Patrick Stewart’s equivalent) in a sequence that digresses into “X-Men” territory. Pamela Anderson gets good billing for just one scene; others making cameo appearances include Charlene Tilton, Robert Hays, Lil’ Kim, Craig Bierko and Regina Hall.
Tech package is smooth, with some f/x deliberately on the cheesy side.