“Superhero Movie,” the latest in a prolific series of terrible spoofs on clichéd film genres (“Scary,” “Date,” “Epic,” etc.) is quite easily one of the year’s worst films. That said, it’s also probably the best film in that spoof series, which should tell you something about how astoundingly awful these films are.
“Superhero” pokes fun at elements from many recent superhero movies, including “Batman Begins” and “X-Men,” but its central focus is the film that started the current resurgence of the superhero genre: Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman.” Now, right off the bat, I see a problem. A spoof of “Spiderman” already exists – it was called “Spiderman 3.” A film that actually attempts to embrace and amplify the genre absurdity that finally became undeniable in that off-kilter finale to the “Spiderman” series will obviously be a complete disaster. On that account, “Superhero Movie” doesn’t disappoint.
Rick Riker (Drake Bell, TV’s “Drake & Josh”) is a nerdy adolescent, whose life story is not for the faint of heart. Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton, “Aquamarine”) is the cute, clueless girl-next-door who needs Rick to save her – she just doesn’t know it yet. When Rick gets bit by a mutant dragonfly on a school field trip and develops the rare superpower that allows him to perform complicated dance moves on vertical walls – well, it’s straight-up kismet.
Other stuff happens too, of course – not because it’s part of the story, but simply because it can be done. Pamela Anderson makes an appearance as The Invisible Woman (“Fantastic Four”) that isn’t invisible enough. Tracy Morgan rolls in on a wheelchair as Prof. Charles Xavier (“X-Men”) for no apparent reason. Tasteless jokes abound, tackling everything from race to Stephen Hawking’s paralysis (Spoiler alert: the wheelchair-bound man gets hurled from a skyscraper at the end). And what’s a “Movie” without hundreds of fart jokes?
Amazingly there are also jokes here that work. Jeffrey Tambor’s (TV’s “Arrested Development) blasé, fatalistic doctor character is hilarious, though decidedly out of place in this mess. The spoof on the proliferation of iPod-related items hits home, but that’s good for only one of the film’s 85 excruciating minutes. And there’s also a very funny Tom Cruise parody, but Tom Cruise parodies are way too easy these days.
The recent onslaught of superhero movies has left even the most devoted fans reeling. This genre, with its often-jingoistic gripes and self-righteous, comical soul-searching is certainly ripe for parody. But unfortunately, “the guys that brought you ‘Scary Movie’ ” (as if that’s an accomplishment) are simply not very good at translating earnest oversteps into searing satire: They’re just good for pitiful one-liners and busty cameos.
Ultimately, the film has a beginning and an end, a feat of coherence unheard of in this spoof series. That is an achievement, I suppose, but it doesn’t change the fact that “Superhero Movie” is flagrantly abusive to both the subtle art of satire and to even the unrefined sensibilities of its high school audience.
1 out of 5 stars
At Quality 16 and Showcase