A vulgar, Z-grade variant on last year’s “Mystery Men” for those who didn’t get their fill the first time around, tyro helmer Craig Mazin’s “The Specials” is a satire of comic-book superheroes that far outdoes its predecessor in terms of general unpleasantness. Devoid of ideas on how this uninspired premise might be improved, pic packages some limp jabs at celebrity culture and a proliferation of crude bathroom humor into a long, unfunny 82 minutes. Greatest wonder is not the superhuman talents possessed by the characters but the fact that distributor Regent (which is releasing the film exclusively at the single Hollywood screen it owns and operates) has seen fit to give this sub-par vidpic even the most perfunctory of bigscreen berths.
Set in a parallel, contempo reality, intro dons a docu approach to set up the Specials as a ragtag crew of self-designated “superheroes” in a world where such teams regularly vie against each other to maintain public safety and capture public adoration.
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“The Specials” are only the “sixth or seventh best” such alliance, as we discover in these first-person confessionals by the various Specials members: the Weevil (Rob Lowe), their most popular character; blue-faced, shape-shifting Amok (Jamie Kennedy), who is essentially a foul-mouthed, male version of “X-Men’s” Mystique; fearless leader the Strobe (Thomas Haden Church); and size-changing Minute Man (James Gunn, who also scripted), to name a few.
Pic’s one joke is that our heroes spend more time finessing their image, jockeying for media coverage and securing licensing deals than performing acts of heroism. This slant underlines the notion of this fantasy world as a natural parallel to image-conscious Hollywood.
There is a single moment of inspired hilarity about two-thirds of the way through, as the Specials attend the launch party of toy action figures made in their likenesses, only to discover that they have been misrepresented in a variety of unflattering ways. Aside from this momentary infusion of cleverness, Mazin shows no significant aptitude for comic timing.
But he is understandably hampered by a script that alternates between Andy Kaufman-esque, self-consciously bad punchlines and what seems like a contest to insert the words “penis,” “scrotum” and “masturbate” into the dialogue as frequently and in as many combinations as possible.
Most of the action takes place in the house known as Specials HQ, and so the toy-launch party is not just the film’s only good gag but also its major set-piece and primary dramatic beat, after which our heroes disband and go their separate ways — at least until the expected schmaltz and tidy resolution ensues.
Tech credits are strictly bare bones. Perfs are also underwhelming, with Lowe’s Weevil unlikely to garner him “West Wing”-like kudos; Paget Brewster’s Ms. Indestructible reps an uncharacteristic bright spot.
In a bit of credit-block trivia, the character of Eight (a superhero with one mind and eight bodies), though given minimal screen time, is credited ironically to seven separate performers, one of whom is ex-X rocker John Doe.