Starring Drake Bell, Sara Paxton, and Christopher McDonald. Rated 14A.
Like blind dates or diet pudding, one’s experience of Superhero Movie benefits enormously from low expectations.
In these days of Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans, the parody genre has been so conspicuously scoured of imagination and quality control that mere adequacy feels like a triumph. On that basis, Superhero Movie is a fantastic success. But not really. Keep those expectations down.
While throwing a few nods toward X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Batman, the movie is essentially a reworking of Spider-Man, with farts. Drake Bell plays a bullied teenager transformed by intimate contact with a mutant dragonfly. Marion Ross and Leslie Nielsen are his kindly aunt and uncle. Sara Paxton is the goddess next door, best kissed while hanging upside down. Christopher McDonald is the rich inventor destined to bear the kabuki mask and flying apparatus of deranged villainy.
Not angling for originality, Superhero Movie aims for geniality. Though the characterizations are borrowed, they are serviceably sincere. Writer and director Craig Mazin seems to have a real affection for superhero movies. He started his directing career with the The Specials, a lighthearted pastiche in the vein of Sky High or Mystery Men. Though more of an out-and-out spoof, and borderline tasteless at times, his second attempt has a much higher production budget, which allows for credible effects and action. There’s even a solid bad guy. McDonald is vibrant, even powerful, as the Hourglass, a dying man whose life energy is replenished via a gruesome biomechanical process.
Indeed, the truly disappointing aspect of Superhero Movie is that there appears to be enough passion and talent here to count as a lost opportunity. When you can pull together a cast that also includes Dan Castellaneta, Keith David, Tracy Morgan, Brent Spiner, Robert Joy, and Jeffrey Tambor, surely you can give them more than pee-pee jokes, even if they are relatively good ones.