The best thing to be said about "Superhero Movie" is that, as far as recent spoof movies go, writer-director Craig Mazin (one of the many scripters of 2003's "Scary Movie 3
" and 2006's "Scary Movie 4
") is certainly a step up from soul-crushing hacks Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Twice in a row now, they have achieved the impossible by making gag-filled slapstick comedies2007's "Epic Movie
" and 2008's "Meet the Spartans
"that have exactly zero funny moments between them. By comparison, the self-explanatory "Superhero Movie" has about five good laughs stretched over a 70-minute running time (not counting the ludicrously padded 15-minute end credits). Almost by default that signals a better film, but is that really all we have come to expect from this creatively floundering genre, especially when past entries like 1980's "Airplane!," 1988's "The Naked Gun!," and 1991's "Hot Shots!" still hold up surprisingly well today?
A direct lampoon of 2002's original "Spider-Man
," "Superhero Movie" follows virtually the exact same plot, with minor detours and references to other past comic book films like "Batman
" and "Fantastic Four
." On a class trip to science facility Amalgamated Technologies, shy high schooler Rick Riker (Drake Bell) is bitten by a dragonfly. From this incident, he begins to adopt extraordinary abilities and has soon become the city's heroic, green-spandexed crime-fighter Dragonfly. As a love triangle forms between Rick, alter-ego Dragonfly and longtime neighbor and dream girl Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton), their safety, as well as that of Rick's beloved Uncle Albert (Leslie Nielsen) and Aunt Lucille (Marion Ross), are threatened when out-of-control scientist Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald) turns into archvillain Hourglass and starts sucking the life out of the people he touches.
"Superhero Movie" proves one thing: when handled with enough go-for-broke flair and originality, juvenile fart jokes can still be funny. A scene involving just that is pure inspired lunacylarge gusts of wind, fire explosions, tampons and peeling wallpaper are involvedand fleetingly signals what could have been. Save for this and a handful of other amusing individual momentsJill's argument with her parents behind closed doors include the sounds of ear-piercing shrieks, shattered glass and machine gunsthe film is dead on arrival. Jokes come and go at a rapid-fire pace, but they are either too lame or predictable to be humorous, too poorly edited to achieve perfect comic timing, or too overexposed by trailers and television ads. With only a few tweaks, "Superhero Movie" could almost come off as a low-budget remake of "Spider-Man
" rather than a spoof of it.
Fresh off of Nickelodeon's hit series "Drake and Josh," Drake Bell (2005's "Yours, Mine and Ours
") plays the Tobey Maguire-influenced role of Rick Riker/Dragonfly and isn't shy working with sexual-oriented material decidedly more mature than what his fanbase has come to expect. Is Bell any good, though? Eh, he's passable, but has an annoying tendency of reacting the same way to each scene, scrunching his face up as if he's either disgusted or sucking on a lemon. As girl of his affections Jill Johnson, Sara Paxton (2007's "Sydney White
") is wispy and pleasant, though, again, not a master of deadpan the way someone of Leslie Nielsen's caliber is. Speaking of Nielsen, he and Marion Ross are the gamest players of all as Rick's caring, if not all-there, aunt and uncle. Everyone else, bar none, is wasted, with prominently-billed Pamela Anderson onscreen for literally five seconds. What's the point?
"Superhero Movie" is plodding rather than uproarious, and picks up steam in spurts that arrive and dissipate without warning. There might be a quick, solid gagfuneral mourners bid farewell to a loved one by cheerfully exclaiming in unison, "Goodbye!"and then fifteen or twenty minutes of dead space interrupted by crickets. Rinse and repeat. Spoof movies demand expert writing, editing and acting to gain the momentum they need, and "Superhero Movie" is deficient in these things. It's a mostly tired example of a genre that has seen far brighter days.