When a local crime boss (Kevin Bacon) lures away his wife (Liv Tyler), lifelong pushover Frank (Rainn Wilson; see interview)—under the influence of a bizarre Christian kids' TV show and a sci-fi-style encounter with something like God—starts to make himself over into a real-life superhero. On discovering that the weird guy who frequents her comic-book store is, in fact, the masked man making his way into the papers as the Crimson Bolt, young nerd Libby (Ellen Page) insinuates herself as his sidekick and would-be girlfriend. Super writer/director James Gunn (scripter of the Scooby-Doo movies, the auteur behind Slither) launched his career working for Troma, and the best bits of this fanboy- culture decon job bear the unmistakable trace of the venerable no-budget brand behind socially engaged schlock-satire such as Poultrygeist and The Toxic Avenger. Conceptually similar to last spring's bullied-teen-dons-tights-to-fight flick Kick-Ass, Super distinguishes itself with a deliberate tonal unevenness that's unsettling and annoying. By foregrounding the problematic muddling of fantasy and reality inherent in his premise, Gunn successfully shifts between celebrating violence and mourning it, but his handling of emotional evolution is clumsier; he seems particularly out of his depth in the film's mawkish ending. But Page is a revelation: There isn't another gorgeous 20-something actress working today who could more convincingly reveal sexual bravado to be simultaneously silly and creepy.
Page and Wilson as sidekick and mentor.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., April 15. Not rated. 96 minutes.