Queued Up: Comic Book Movie Edition – The Specials

Looking for a movie to watch but there’s nothing good on television and you don’t want to drive to your local Redbox or video store? This column takes a peak at some of the curiosities to be found on Netflix Instant Streaming. Today: The Specials.

Later this year writer/director James Gunn’s Super will be released. The film, starring Rainn Wilson as a wannabe vigilante and Ellen Page as his psychotic teen sidekick, gained quite a bit of buzz when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Until Super is released, those curious to see what a superhero story would be like from the writer of Slither, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake and Tromeo and Juliet need look no further than the low-budget superhero comedy The Specials.

Released in 2000, The Specials stars a great cast of talented character actors in a story that is in many ways a superhero version of Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

While Smith’s debut film was grounded in the mundane world of convenience stores, The Specials takes a look at the world of super heroic wheeling and dealing. Not much happens action wise in the dialogue heavy film, but Gunn’s film isn’t a story about heroes punching bad guys — it’s a story of heroes negotiating merchandise contracts, being chewed out by their team leader for being caught with a cigarette or trying to have sex without accidentally unleashing their superpowers and turning a hooker into wet chunks of meat hanging from the ceiling.

From a script by Gunn and directed by Craig Mazin, The Specials is straight-faced camp. Never trying to play down the fact that it’s a superhero movie, It embraces the cheese that comes with latex costumes and domino masks. But don’t expect the surreal silliness of the Adam West Batman series. The film tries it’s hardest to be as much a satire as it is a spoof.

Made at the very onset of the superhero movie craze that picked up immediately following the release of X-Men, The Specials is a hard-R forefather to a lot of the deconstructive superhero films that have come in recent years such as Kick-Ass or even The Incredibles. Don’t expect an Alan Moore-level of highbrow examination into the genre, though. The Specials, though pointed in its sending-up of comic books, is still a silly, self-aware parody that only occasionally reaches the heights of cleverness it shoots fore. More often than not, the film is content going for the low hanging fruit and settling for the easy joke.

Thomas Haden Church stars as The Strobe, the self-important blowhard who leads The Specials, a group of offbeat heroes with powers or personalities that make them easy targets for mocking. Writer James Gunn, for example, is Minute Man, a hero with the power to shrink to the size of a G.I. Joe action figure but with the curse of having to remind people his name is pronounced “mahy-noot” not “min-it.” Rob Lowe is The Weevil, the most popular member of the group — and a total tool. Between sleeping with The Strobe’s wife and fielding offers to join other teams, The Weevil’s superpower seems to be making people adore him despite the fact he’s a terrible human being and revels in the fact.

Judy Greer is Deadly Girl, a goth-lite with a sour disposition and the ability to summon the dead. Despite the fact that, on the surface, Deadly Girl seems to be a one-note character — a super powered version of MTV’s Daria, Greer’s subdued performance helps establish the character as the most nuanced and interesting of the bunch.

On the other spectrum is Jamie Kennedy as Amok, a blue-skinned meathead who stumbles through the movie picking fights and establishing himself as a badass. At one point, when Amok considers aloud the idea of becoming a super villain whose MO is raping animals, it’s clear that Gunn was still transitioning between his days working at Troma Studios and writing for a mainstream audience.

The movie is not concerned with special effects and doesn’t even show the team’s powers until the last few minutes of the movie but that’s not the point of the film. The Specials is about a group of emotionally rotten people who have been thrust into the world of super heroics. Some of them are egotistical. Some are borderline evil. Others are just very, very stupid.

Which makes it the perfect kind of movie to watch on Netflix Instant. There’s just enough within the film to make it worth watching at least once — especially a completely hysterical parody of the world of toy licensing — but the movie still has a lot of rough edges that distract from the overall experience.

While Gunn’s recent work has shown that a writer that has grown comfortable in a voice that’s a mix of raunchy and witty, The Specials represents an unfocused writer who trips between meaningful satire and silly shock value. There are a lot of ideas bouncing off the walls here. Occasionally, one will stop and let the audience inspect it — showing just how novel of an idea it really is. For the most part, though, the ideas are content to trip on rakes and have pies tossed into their faces — hiding the cleverness that will come later in Gunn’s career.

Watch The Specials on Netflix:

Buy The Specials at Amazon.com:

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