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Superhero Movie

(2008) * 1/2 Pg-13
86 min. The Weinstein Company, MGM Distribution Company. Director: Craig Mazin. Cast: Drake Bell, Sara Paxton, Christopher McDonald, Pamela Anderson, Tracy Morgan.

/content/films/3286/7.jpgWho says vaudeville is dead? The live-action cartoon Superhero Movie is in no sense good, but its hit-and-miss parodic humor occasionally connects. Once upon a time, producer David Zucker, his brother Jerry, and their friend Jim Abrahams relied less on trial and error than on well-honed, energetic comedic instincts. The problem with Superhero Movie is that it continues Zucker's trend of increasing fatigue and decreasing laughs (in Zucker's defense, though he was on the set every day, this one was written and directed by protege Craig Mazin). Nothing in Superhero Movie could be described as magical, but for comic-book fans in a forgiving mood, this lowbrow outing has its moments.

Nickolodeon-bred youth-culture icon Drake Bell stars as high-school loser Rick Riker. Bit by a genetically modified dragonfly, Riker discovers he can become a costumed crimefighter while, at the same time, parlaying his access to the Dragonfly into a new career as a photojournalist. Unfortunately, the criminal element preys on those closet to Rick, his Aunt Lucille (Marion Ross) and Uncle Albert ("spoof legend" Leslie Nielsen). Rick pines for beautiful Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton), but of even greater concern is wealthy industrialist Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald), whose scientific experiments gone haywire transform him into the energy-sucking supervillain The Hourglass. Sound familiar?

It's rare that Superhero Movie roams outside of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man paradigm, but a few of its funniest moments crop up that way. The X-Men get spoofed when Rick takes a detour through "Xavier's School For The Non-Asian Gifted," in the company of Tracey Morgan's Professor Xavier (who travels by all manner of automated wheels, from Segway to rolling toilet). Here, too, Craig Bierko (Scary Movie 4) makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo as Wolverine. Perhaps because of my preference for Batman, I got a kick out of the scene depicting the death of Rick's parents, Batman Begins-style. The sequence stars Robert Hays (Airplane!) and Nicole Sullivan as Rick's ill-fated parents, and it's emblematic of the film's go-for-broke tastelessness. It's a fine line between tastelessly funny and horrifyingly insensitive and Mazin gleefully dances back and forth across the border.

/content/films/3286/1.jpgMost of the time, Superhero Movie is a pale reflection of earlier, better spoof films, ones that transcended their source material to become unique works of comic art in their own right (Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Young Frankenstein). The knee-jerk impulse is to scatological humor (like making poor "Mrs. C" fart her way through a scene), and a climactic event featuring Desmond Tutu, the Pope, and the Dalai Lama is the sort of thing that smelled as if it might be past its sell-by date back in The Naked Gun days.

Bell is good with a double-take, and McDonald is an old hand at pulling off this sort of broad humor. The project attracted a number of other veteran performers: Brent Spiner (Star Trek's Data), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), Robert Joy (Land of the Dead) as Stephen Hawking, Regina Hall (Scary Movie 3 and 4), Keith David (Barbershop), Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons' Homer) and Pamela Anderson. To a one they're collecting paychecks, but at least they make the film easier to take.

In a missed opportunity, the movie doesn't play for a joke that fact that Bell and Paxton sing consecutive end credit tunes ("Superbounce" and "I Need a Hero"). Didn't the joke used to be on Hollywood, rather than Hollywood having its way with the parodists? With the parody thing so sorely commodified (and magazines like Cracked and Mad irrelevant), the form should probably take up permanent residence on television.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 1/6/2009

Distributor: Genius Products

Genius Products gives Superhero Movie plenty of attention in mirrored Blu-ray and DVD special editions. The Blu-ray transfer is a pleasure, with a bright, colorful and sharp picture that benefits from the film's disinterest in mood lighting; the disc is also easy on the ears with a definitive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound mix that gets the most out of the movie's dialogue, music and effects. The feature is presented in both Theatrical (82 minutes) and Extended (86 minutes) Versions, though the disc is either mistakenly mastered or the filmmakers are making another bad joke: one has to select "Theatrical Version" to get the "Extended Version," and vice versa.

Fans will have no complaint about the battery of bonus features, beginning with a chummy commentary by writer/director Craig Mazin and legendary producers David Zucker and Robert K. Weiss. The three obviously enjoy each other's company and, with no sign of pretention, respect each other's work; though they tiptoe around the point, they're also revealing about how often their original vision had to be compromised to please the suits.

The disc also includes an "Alternate Ending" (5:15, SD) and "Deleted Scenes" (10:42 with "Play All" option, SD). The featurette "Meet the Cast" (11:14, HD) entertainingly works its way through the actors, with Mazin, Zucker, Weiss, Marion Ross, Drake Bell, Christopher McDonald, Sara Paxton, Regina Hall, Tracey Morgan and Pamela Anderson participating in interviews. "The Art of Spoofing" (10:35, HD) adds comments from Kevin Hart in the process of explaining what makes the genre tick. A "Theatrical Trailer" (2:08, SD) and BD Live hookup (for exclusive online content) round out the disc.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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