One of those comedies so incessantly and aggressively unfunny that you begin to wonder whether that’s the joke, documentary director Zak Knutson’s first narrative feature “Supercon” is a poor stab at Christopher Guest-style ensemble antics combined with a rote heist plot. The Comic Con-esque setting ought to be a rich target for satire, but life is full of missed opportunities, and this turns out to be one of them. Not to be confused with the concurrent “Supertroopers 2” — though one suspects theater owners would love it if you did — this film will no doubt pass quickly through hardtops, doing somewhat better in a home-formats launch that also commences April 27.
A former child star on an ’80s TV show, Keith Mahar (Russell Peters) is now a disillusioned adult, and makes a bare living reluctantly attending fan conventions. (Why he hasn’t tried finding another career is a question never raised here.) He probably wouldn’t enjoy the job even if it didn’t involve the torment of regular exposure to vainglorious Adam King (Clancy Brown), who was “Tex Johnson, U.S. Marshall” to Keith’s doughy juvenile sidekick “Hadji” on the show, and who’s just as noxious now as he was then. Nor is it a pleasure dealing with Gil (Mike Epps), the money-grubbing organizer of these touring events.
As Supercon wheels into a New Orleans convention center, Keith, newly divorced and facing eviction, reunites with several friendlier regulars on the circuit. They include cheerfully hustling voice-actor bestie Matt (Ryan Kwanten); his unimpressed crush object Allison (Maggie Grace), a pink-haired, tart-tongued comics artist; and Brock (Brooks Braselman), the very gay erstwhile star of a ’70s macho-detective series. After a dustup with marquee attraction King, our protags are banned from the premises by Gil. That’s bad news for all financially, but Matt has an idea: With everyone running around in cosplay costumes, why don’t they likewise go incognito and rob Supercon at the point, late in the weekend, when only overpaid Adam and skinflint Gil’s loot is left in the till?
The conceit of a heist during a public event is a useful hook — it certainly worked for the enjoyable “Logan Lucky” last year — and the spectacle of costumed fanboys and girls reveling in what’s billed as “3 Days of Pop Culture Heaven!” should provide plenty of colorful, kitschy and satirical fun. “Supercon” is indeed colorful: Bonnie Stauch’s costumes, Fredrick Waff’s production design, Zoran Popovic’s lensing and other contributors take full advantage of the garish adult-theme-park environ. Editors Jay Wade Edwards and Dustin Chow even keep up a lively enough pace.
Yet actual laughs seem to have been banished from this land of permanently juvenile imagination. For the first half hour or so, we feel as if stuck backstage at a stand-up comedy bill where all the quarreling, resentful opening acts are spouting the tired old racist, homophobic and sexist material they can’t pass off on most audiences anymore. The humor misfires painfully even when it just tries to be charming, as when Brock camps his way through an al fresco version of “Shine on Harvest Moon.”
Once the crime-caper mechanics kick in, it’s a small relief. Still, they don’t exactly spur greater inspiration (the biggest slapstick gag is Brock falling into an overloaded toilet), and dialogue is consistently even more flat-footed than the banal situations the film’s three screenwriters have cooked up. Whether improvisation was involved or not, much of “Supercon” plays like the kind of riffing that would normally be left on the cutting room floor, not even worthy of a film-ending blooper reel.
Kwanten and Grace fare best in remaining affable under trying circumstances, but then their characters have the benefit of never being covered in dung or punched in the genitals. Also emerging fairly unscathed is John Malkovich, who turns up as a late-joining co-conspirator with his own grudge against bullying Adam King. But why Malkovich is here is anyone’s guess; one can only assume he was doing someone a very generous favor. If you’re hoping to see this celebrated thesp go sketch-comedy-style nutzoid, be warned — he gets no better material than anyone else and doesn’t make any more of it.
Though perhaps a bit less scarring and more forgettable an experience, “Supercon” joins the company of such infamous comedy calamities as “Fire Sale,” “Freddy Got Fingered,” “Movie 43,” “Boat Trip,” “Norbit” and “The Hottie and the Nottie” in not being simply unamusing but confounding speculation on just what the makers imagined might be funny.