Director: Craig Mazin
Of all the different kinds of comedy movie, there's a particular brand known as the spoof. They gained prominence in the '70s and '80s with classics like Airplane! and the Naked Gun trilogy, while other flicks like Johnny Dangerously, Spy Hard, Hot Shots, and the work of Mel Brooks have made their own contribution to the genre over the years. They might have taken on different subjects, but they were all unified in the way they went about it. Instead of singling out certain movies, they set out to lampoon a certain genre and use its clichés for comedic purposes. They were better movies for it. But that idea changed at the turn of the twenty-first century, when Keenan Ivory Wayans unleashed Scary Movie upon the world. Scary Movie did the exact opposite of the parodies that came before it, using gross-out humor to blatantly mock and imitate popular horror movies. It was a thoroughly mediocre movie, but it proved successful enough to inspire a number of sequels and clones. While Not Another Teen Movie was actually an okay movie, the majority of these Scary Movie wannabes have been absolutely dreadful. Go watch Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, and Disaster Movie, and tell me they aren't horrible. The movies are basically vehicles for the directors to find as many ways to inflict physical punishment upon as many celebrities and famous characters from other movies as they can before the closing credits roll. But with teen movies, date movies, disaster movies, and blockbusters having gotten the "_____ Movie" treatment, it was eventually time for comic book adaptations to be the subject of a lame parody. And that's just what we got with Superhero Movie.
Rick Riker (Drake Bell) is your typical high school loser. He's regularly abused by bullies, and he carries an unrequited torch for Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton), the pretty girl next door that doesn't even know Rick exists. The only people who'll even give him so much as the time of day are his aunt and uncle (Marion Ross and Leslie Nielsen), and his only friend, Trey (Kevin Hart). Rick's pitiful life eventually takes an eventful turn when, during a school field trip to an animal research lab, he is bitten by a genetically altered dragonfly. The bite imbues him with super-strength, the ability to walk on walls, and almost total invulnerability. Oddly enough, his abilities don't allow him to fly, which is kinda weird considering it was a dragonfly that caused all this. Anyway, Rick chooses to use his newfound powers to become a masked superhero dubbed "The Dragonfly."
And every good superhero needs an archenemy as well. Terminally ill scientist Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald) has created a machine that could potentially cure his illness. However, the machine malfunctions during the initial run and instead of curing him, Landers is instead finds himself able to suck the life from people and use it to prolong his own. Each person he drains only provides a temporary fix, but Landers deduces that if he were to drain several thousands of people at once, he would become immortal. Landers adopts a criminal persona known as "Hourglass" to achieve this goal, eventually bringing him into conflict with Rick, who tries desperately to save the city and get the girl.
The recent glut of spoof movies have given us nothing but a bunch of movies that are each more stupid than the last. But the odd thing is that Superhero Movie is actually better than much of its brethren. It helps that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer the wastes of space behind the majority of the "_____ Movie" disasters had nothing to do with this one. That works in the movie's favor, as it elevates it from total garbage to the level of merely lame and mediocre at best. While the movie could have been better, it could have been a whole heck of a lot times worse. It tries desperately to both fit in with the style while standing alone as its own movie, which ultimately does it more harm than good.
When it comes to direction, movies like this don't need to be very complex. In truth, comedy is most often best done when it's kept simple. Craig Mazin keeps this in mind, as his work is effective in its simplicity. And outside of some cheap-looking production value, an instance of very ugly CGI, and some obvious green screen work, Mazin's directorial work is okay. His writing, however, could have used quite a bit of work. A lot of the jokes unfortunately fall flat. But I'll give him credit for writing a movie with a coherent plot that, for the most part, actually sticks to the genre it's supposed to be lampooning. The spoofs made by Friedberg and Seltzer overload themselves on excessively random pop culture references that are completely unrelated to their central themes. For example, what does Chris Crocker's "leave Britney alone!" YouTube video have to do with a parody of 300, besides making the movie even more annoying? Or why do Iron Man, Batman, Hellboy, the Incredible Hulk, Indiana Jones, Hannah Montana, Flavor Flav, Jessica Simpson, Justin Timberlake, Dr. Phil, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Beowulf, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and characters from Hancock, Juno, 10,000 B.C., Superbad, No Country for Old Men, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Speed Racer, Kung Fu Panda, High School Musical, The Love Guru, Sex in the City, Enchanted, and Wanted in what's supposed to be a parody of disaster movies? Mazin does commit this offense a few times, with a running gag involving Stephen Hawking and a parody of Tom Cruise's leaked videos about Scientology. While I don't really understand the point of the Hawking bits, Mazin does try tying the Tom Cruise joke into superhero movies. But alas, the joke just isn't funny. And seriously, did we NEED the Stephen Hawking gags? I'll admit to chuckling a bit at the thought of him being depicted as a lecherous pervert, but did we really need to have him get beat up in every one of his scenes? Isn't that a bit distasteful? Or did I miss the announcement that the repeated abuse of a handicapped person was funny now?
I also think it's odd that with a genre as diverse as superhero movies, Mazin chose to focus primarily on the first Spider-Man movie. Why a movie that was six years old at the time, and not something relatively more recent? Maybe it was to keep that more coherent plot I mentioned, but references to movies outside of Spider-Man are few and far between. There's a quick parody of the scene where Bruce Wayne's parents die in Batman Begins, characters from X-Men and Fantastic Four have cameos, and there's references to the curiously frequent alliteration seen in the naming of comic book characters. But other than that, it's all Spider-Man. I mean, I'm not really sure how this would be a parody of the entire genre. Did Friedberg and Seltzer use up all the other superhero movies during THEIR spoofs? And what's with actually having characters from X-Men and Fantastic Four actually in the movie? Could Mazin not make a "_____ Movie" without having the gag where something incredibly stupid happens to characters from other, better movies? Did we need the scene where Professor Xavier's annoyingly sassy female doppelganger beats up the Invisible Woman? Did we need to see Wolverine using his claws to shave his legs? Did we need the scene where the Human Torch is surprised when he actually catches fire, and Dragonfly tries to put him out? Did we even really need the whole subplot where Professor Xavier tries to contact our main character? It's not like these scenes actually contribute anything to the movie. They go on way too long, they don't lead anywhere, and they don't add to the story. It makes me think that they were only added to serve as filler. Remove the characters from other movies, the Tom Cruise and Stephen Hawking jokes, and other needless scenes that wear out their welcome incredibly quickly (one where Rick is practically gang-raped by animals, another where Rick almost gives away his hiding place due to an inability to hold his urine, and one more where a romantic moment between Rick and Jill is repeatedly interrupted by a ninety-second fart joke), and the movie's surprisingly short 75-minute theatrical running time would have been reduced to just a little over an hour. But not only does it prove that these scenes weren't very good when only padding the running time, but it shows that Mazin apparently couldn't come up with enough material for a longer movie. (Though I am perplexed by the fact that they created an 85-minute extended cut for the DVD, along with a few deleted scenes. Why not just restore the deleted scenes, and release the whole thing in theaters instead of that super-short theatrical cut?)
Rounding out the movie are the actors, many of whom are unfortunately just kinda there. It's the cast that makes or breaks comedies, and it really doesn't help that most of the time, it feels like they aren't even trying here. I can't say I really blame them, since a lot of the jokes are awful. But come on now, they could have least done a little more to earn their paychecks. I will admit, though, there are some bright spots in regards to the acting. For starters, I liked Drake Bell's work. After spending the better part of the decade appearing on kid-oriented sitcoms on Nickelodeon, Bell gets his first real chance at mainstream success here. He makes the most of it, putting forth a funny performance even when the material fails to do him any favors. Bell manages to pull off the physical comedy like a pro, and even the really awful jokes are a bit better thanks to him. Granted, he can't save every joke. But he does what he can, and I can't fault him for that. I also enjoyed Christopher McDonald's performance as well. He chews the scenery in every scene he's in, and makes things all the more entertaining. I really can't quite say the same for Sara Paxton, though. She's cute and all, but she doesn't really do anything to make herself a memorable part of the movie.
Among the supporting cast, I liked Kevin Hart and Brent Spiner in their small parts, and I felt that Tracy Morgan was okay in his ultimately pointless role. And if I never see Regina Hall in another movie, I'll be okay with that. And rounding out the cast, we have Marion Ross and Leslie Nielsen. Ross is thoroughly wasted, her only really notable moment coming via a very unfunny fart joke. Excessive farting may have been funny in Blazing Saddles, but thirty-five years later, it isn't funny anymore. And I liked Nielsen, but you really get the feeling that he's resigned himself to doing spoof movies for the rest of his life. You never hear about anybody hiring him based on his work in Creepshow or the original Prom Night. It's always Airplane! or The Naked Gun instead. Maybe it's because he can get an easier paycheck doing spoof movies, I don't know.
You know, I decided to skip Superhero Movie during its theatrical run. I figured that it would have been just as terrible as all the other recent spoof movies, which would have left me burning with such a white-hot rage that my fury would have reduced the entire theater reduced to a pile of smoldering ash. But it turns out that Superhero Movie wasn't so bad after all. No, I couldn't call it a good movie. But as a guilty pleasure, it works. The movie is actually really confusing, to tell you the truth. A lot of the jokes aren't funny, and the satiric moments aren't very witty. But a part of me wants to like it. Is it due to the whole superhero thing? I'm not sure, but I almost feel ashamed of myself. At least it's better than the Friedberg/Seltzer spoofs, so it has that going for it. So I guess I'll give Superhero Movie two and a half stars on my typical five-star scale. Maybe one day, they'll find a way to do a parody of all these parodies. But then again, why would somebody want to make a movie that would be that bad, even intentionally?
Final Rating: **½