Waiting for “Super” to deliver the funny is an experience as long as the film itself. This would-be comedy about a cuckolded greasy spoon fry cook-turned-costumed vigilante (Rainn Wilson) wants to weld “Kick-Ass” to “Taxi Driver,” but writer-director James Gunn fires only blanks on the satiric side of things. Investing more in their characters than the movie deserves, Ellen Page, as the hero’s sadistic “kid sidekick,” and Kevin Bacon, as a gold-toothed, rail-thin sleazebag, would seem to give “Super” some strength in the sales realm, as evidenced by its IFC pickup at Toronto, although the pic’s exceedingly grotesque violence and dearth of genuine humor equate to commercial kryptonite.
Narrating in voiceover, Wilson’s Frank Darbo recounts his bevy of childhood humiliations, his fantasies of not being “weak,” and his love for wife Sarah (Liv Tyler). After Bacon’s hustler Jacques invites himself into Frank’s humble apartment for eggs, asking for the woman of the house, it takes only five days for the marriage to break apart, with Sarah taking up with Jacques and almost instantly getting strung out on smack.
A dim bulb, intense and jittery, fuming Frank takes divine inspiration from the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion), a TV superhero on the “All-Jesus Network.” Even more significant to Frank’s transformation — if just as quasi-religious — are the giant, power-granting worms that literally juice up the fry cook’s brain. Bent on battling crime, Frank soon sews a silly, crimson-red spandex suit and hits the streets — or, rather, he crouches beside a dumpster and waits in vain for crime drama.
Losing an unarmed battle against a drug pusher, Frank meekly consults with a comicbook store-clerk (Page) on the weapons chosen by superheroes sans powers, settling on a pipe wrench, which he uses to bash senseless even a “villain” who cuts into a movie theater line and the man’s innocent g.f.
Frank swiftly gains news media notoriety as the Crimson Bolt and naturally sets his sights on Jacques, as Gunn tries and completely fails to make a wishy-washy case for his hero’s merciless vigilantism.
Set to the tune of Tyler Bates’ happy-go-lucky score, Gunn’s combination of peppy hijinks and horrific savagery might sound intriguing on paper. Onscreen, however, it fails to signify much beyond the director’s Troma Entertainment tutelage in the ’90s (he wrote the crude “Tromeo and Juliet”). Certainly “Super,” albeit boasting sharp cinematography and sound design, pales beside Gunn’s vastly more effective “Slither,” his similar horror-comedy gambit from 2006.
The cast does what little it can with the disturbingly formulaic material. Playing the bloodthirsty, comicbook-loving Libby, the highly animated Page comes across best, even summarizing the viewer’s mood while scratching her itchy trigger-finger in costume as Boltie: “Oh, this is so boring!”