Sunday, March 29, 2009

Steel (1997)

The comic book industry is dominated by superheroes, and I believe it goes without saying the most famous of them all is Superman. This heroic visitor from another world essentially created the entire superhero genre following his first appearance in 1938, and has since become one of the most iconic characters in all of popular fiction.

Superman's popularity proved to be so much that the entire world took notice in 1992 when DC Comics began a storyline titled "The Death of Superman." The storyline was met with tremendous financial success and was covered by worldwide media. It was soon followed by two more storylines that followed the aftermath, stretching the event out for much of 1993.

It was the third chapter in this trilogy ("Reign of the Supermen") that introduced us to Steel, an armored superhero who appeared in Metropolis in an attempt to fill the void created by Superman's death. Not very long after the character made his debut, he was picked by Warner Brothers to be adapted into a motion picture. And what a terrible, terrible decision that was.

As the movie begins, we are introduced to John Henry Irons (Shaquille O'Neal), Susan Sparks (Annabeth Gish), and Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson), a trio of soldiers who develop advanced weaponry for the military. Their latest creation: a cannon that generates sonic booms to neutralize enemy troops while drastically reducing casualties.

However, a cocky Burke cranks the cannon's power up to eleven during a test and inadvertently causes all kinds of damage. A senator visiting the test facility is killed, and Sparks is rendered a paraplegic. The incident leads to Burke being dishonorably discharged and Irons quitting the Army.

Irons returns to his family in Los Angeles, where he quickly picks up a job working in a junkyard owned by his uncle Joe (Richard Roundtree). He isn't back in town for long before he notices local punks packing weapons that are way too advanced for simple street gangs to have. It turns out Burke has been selling the military technology they developed on the black market, and they've found their way into the hands of the neighborhood's resident gangsters.

To combat the rising crime rate, Irons, Sparks, and Joe develop their own weapons to counteract the ones on the street. They forge a high-tech suit of armor and a customized sledgehammer, and adopting the name "Steel," Irons becomes a vigilante dedicated to cleaning up Los Angeles and getting Burke's weapons off the streets.

Do you remember Iron Man? Do you remember how awesome it was? Now imagine the complete and total opposite of that. If you can, you'll probably end up with Steel. The movie is just plain terrible from start to finish. The direction is bad, the writing is bad, the acting is bad, the music is bad, the special effects are bad, the costumes are bad, the set design is bad, the props are bad, everything is... well, bad.

The story goes that Steel was originally approved with the intention of making it a spinoff to a proposed movie based on "The Death of Superman." That movie ended up going nowhere and was ultimately cancelled, but Warner Brothers opted to just drop the Superman connection altogether and make Steel anyway. The only remaining connection whatsoever between this movie and the Superman mythos is that Shaquille O'Neal has Superman's logo tattooed on his arm.

But I hope the guy that made the call to produce Steel got fired, because the movie sucks out loud. And seriously, who had the wild idea to make a movie about Steel anyway? The truth is that he's a D-list character that I'm pretty certain has absolutely no name recognition nowadays, if he ever had any to begin with. But enough about that, let's get into just what makes this movie so awful.

The visionary genius behind Steel was writer/director Kenneth Johnson, known for his work such classic pieces of television as The Incredible Hulk, The Six Million Dollar Man, and the original versions of V and The Bionic Woman. He's also done an unbelievably exorbitant amount of made-for-TV movies. But when it comes to making theatrically released flicks, he doesn't exactly have a successful track record. The only things he's ever had released in theaters were Steel and Short Circuit 2, along with his "story by" writing credit on the third Mighty Ducks movie. And while Short Circuit 2 had its moments, Johnson should probably just stick to television.

See, my problem with Steel is just how generic it feels. I know that you can only stretch a budget of 16 million bucks so far in a movie like this, but who would have thought a theatrically-released movie from a huge studio like Warner Brothers would look so cheap? The Steel costume looks like a lame Halloween costume, and the other special effects look just plain awful. Johnson's direction doesn't do the movie any favors, either. He completely fails at setting any sort of tone beyond that of a cheesy comedy, which isn't the kind of movie you'd think this would be.

The way Johnson and cinematographer Mark Irvin film it, you'd think it was made specifically to run on a second-rate cable network instead of in theaters during the summer blockbuster season. It doesn't help anything that the score composed by Mervyn Warren is uninspired, too. Warren's music fails to stand out or set any kind of mood, and ultimately sounds as generic as the movie looks.

And then there's Johnson's writing, which is ludicrous at best. For starters, the plot is just plain weird. While the character of Steel has always struck me as a lame attempt to duplicate Iron Man, the movie's plot really feels like it's shamelessly ripping off Blankman. Both movies are about a likable African-American inventor who becomes a superhero in order to defend his neighborhood from gangs influenced by his primary nemesis. If I were Damon Wayans, I'd be pissed that Steel came along and totally cribbed ideas from my movie.

But the oddities don't end there. Why would the movie's villain, who has access to super-advanced military weapons, sell these weapons to street gangs on the black market? Wouldn't he make more money by selling them to terrorist factions or foreign dictators? Or why not sell them to guys like Lex Luthor? This is a movie based on one of Superman's supporting characters, after all. He could even have taken these weapons and turned himself into Steel's evil doppelganger (and thus trumped the Iron Man movie at least a decade). But that isn't even the craziest part of the script.

The craziest part comes in a scene where Irons visits Sparks in the hospital. Sparks is severely depressed about being stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, and Irons tries giving her a pep talk to lift her spirits. The pep talk is unsuccessful, so Irons just picks her up — wheelchair and all — and carries her out of the hospital to the applause of every bystander in the area. I guess it's okay to do that to handicapped people, as long as they're wallowing in self-pity and making everybody else as sad as they are.

But really, the script has practically organized a cornucopia of goofiness. It's bad enough that Johnson's script includes self-aware references to Shaq's trouble hitting free throws and Richard Roundtree's starring role in Shaft. These bits are enough to pull you out of the movie. But then they had to go and add a wheelchair armed with laser cannons and rocket boosters. That last sentence was not a joke or an exaggeration. I'm not even sure what to say about it. I mean, I'm totally cool with the idea of creating an empowered handicapped character. But here, the effort comes across as silly.

I guess I'll just continue onward toward the acting. Back in the mid-1990s, Shaquille O'Neal was rivaling Michael Jordan for status as the most popular player in the NBA. But while Shaq was enjoying success on the basketball court, his extracurricular activities made people wonder if he was a wee bit crazy. There were his four rap albums released between 1993 and 1998. Then there was the notorious Shaq Fu, a video game so awful that there's actually a website out there dedicated to destroying as many copies of the game as possible.

And then along came his acting career. He generally gets a pass for Blue Chips, and I won't argue with that. But after the absolute disaster that was Kazaam, what idiot thought it was a good idea to cast Shaq in another movie? Were there no other tall black men willing to play the part? Or was Warner Brothers hoping that people had forgotten about Kazaam and chose to pull a bit of ill-advised stunt casting?

I will give Shaq credit for being charismatic and for actually trying. But the truth is that he's just not a very good actor. It's as simple as that. He delivers his lines in a wooden monotone, and you get the feeling that he's figured out he's made a tremendous mistake by agreeing to be in this movie. Sometimes you can just look at Shaq's face during the movie and see him realizing that if Kazaam killed his chances at a legitimate acting career, then Steel is just shoveling dirt into the grave. And it's only exacerbated by the fact that he's credited as an executive producer, too. Either he was banking on the movie being a huge success, or he figured he'd just go down with the sinking ship.

Playing our villain du jour is Judd Nelson, whose appearance here only evidences why his career went completely down the crapper after the '80s ended. Nelson's performance is just so incredibly bad that it's impossible to believe that he's supposed to be a credible villain. There's simply no way whatsoever to take him seriously. It's practically the equivalent of an Uwe Boll movie becoming an actual person and getting cast to play the antagonist in a cheesy superhero movie.

The rest of the cast, though, do what they can. Despite her role being so poorly written, Annabeth Gish still manages to approach the role with a certain level of sincerity that I appreciated. And I also enjoyed Richard Roundtree's work. I got the feeling that he was in on the joke (meaning he knew just how bad this movie would be), and he decided to cut loose and have fun. Through all the hackneyed jokes, he still manages to be entertaining. There's also a spirited performance from Irma Hall in her small, thankless role as Steel's grandmother.

But then there's also Ray J, one of the movie's weakest parts. If you've never heard of him, that's okay. His only claims to fame are that he's Brandy Norwood's less-famous, less-talented brother, and that he was in a sex tape with Kim Kardashian. He plays Steel's little brother, and is stuck in an ultimately pointless subplot. Ray J's acting isn't really good, either. His character is pretty useless, and a combination of that and his performance ultimately renders Ray J's scenes pointless too.

I watched Steel on YouTube in order to write this review, which is helpful since I wanted to spend as little money as I could on it. If I'd had to actually buy or rent a copy of it, I'd have been better off using my money as toilet paper before setting it on fire. And in doing my usual research for this review, I discovered that the people in charge of scheduling release dates at Warner Brothers in 1997 must have been on some serious dope. It turns out that Steel hit theaters a mere two months after another disastrous DC Comics adaptation, Batman & Robin. That's like releasing two Uwe Boll movies in the same summer. I'm surprised putting so much suckage so close to each other didn't create some kind of rift in the space-time continuum.

But as harsh as this review has been, and as atrocious as Steel is, I couldn't help but be at least a little amused by how absurd the movie is. And I'm pretty sure kids between the ages of seven and twelve, or people unable to tell the difference between good movies and bad movies, might enjoy it. But unfortunately, I can't give it anything higher than one and a half stars on my usual scale of five. I'm sure it could have been a decent enough movie, had it not sucked so badly.

Final Rating:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Howard the Duck (1986)

I don't believe I would be exaggerating if I said that the comic book industry is dominated by superheroes. But as I've noted in some of my other reviews, other non-superhero comic book characters have managed to gain a little notoriety for themselves. Characters like Dick Tracy and Archie Andrews's gang of friends have all managed to make their own marks on pop culture over the years.

Another such character is the one and only Howard the Duck. Created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, Howard made his first appearance in 1973 as a secondary character in Man-Thing's regular comic. He graduated to his own short-lived series in 1976, and the character's irreverent charm and unconventional style led to a cult following, along with — of all things — a failed run for President under the banner of the All-Night Party.

But for all his comic standing was worth, what finally made Howard a true household name was his own feature film. With Universal Pictures serving as distributors and Lucasfilm Limited handling production, Howard the Duck hit theaters on August 1, 1986, earning it status as the very first Marvel Comics adaptation to receive a wide theatrical release. But more importantly, it turns out that Howard the Duck would be a tremendous failure at the box office and would develop a reputation as one of the most famous bad movies of all time.

As our story begins, we're introduced to Howard T. Duck (the voice of Chip Zien), a washed-up musician from a far-away planet where anthropomorphic ducks are the dominant species. As Howard comes home after a long day, something yanks him out of his apartment and hurls him across the cosmos. Howard lands in a sleazy back alley in Cleveland, where, despite the initial comedy of errors caused by his strange new surroundings, he ends up saving punk rock singer Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson) from a pair of muggers. A grateful Beverly strikes up a friendship with the strange visitor from another world, inviting him to stay at her apartment until his situation can be dealt with.

The next day, Howard and Beverly begin searching for a way to return Howard back to his home planet. Their search leads them to Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins), a goofball working in a local laboratory. I really don't see how Phil is going to be of any assistance, since he immediately tries to see if Howard has superpowers and he thinks making quacking noises will be an effective means of communication despite the fact that Howard can speak perfect English. I'm just saying, the guy is kind of a spaz. And as it turns out, he's barely a step above the janitors on the lab's pecking order, so he probably won't be of much help anyway. But then he ends up being useful after all, matching one of Howard's feathers to one found at the laboratory of Dr. Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones).

Dr. Jenning and his staff had been performing some supposedly routine experiments involving the firing of a high-tech laser beam into deep space. But due to a malfunction in the laser, it ended up hitting Howard's planet and it sucked him to Earth. Howard theorizes that setting the laser to operate in reverse could send him home, but another malfunction occurs before they can test that theory. The second malfunction pulls down an entity known as the "Dark Overlord of the Universe," a beast from a distant region of space populated by demons. The Dark Overlord takes control over of Dr. Jenning, vowing to bring more of its kind to Earth and raise all kinds of hell. And as you would assume, it's up to Howard to stop the Dark Overlord and save the planet before it's too late.

George Lucas was on top of the world during the first half of the '80s. Coming off Star Wars and American Graffiti the decade prior, the success off the Star Wars sequels and the first two Indiana Jones movies made it look as if Lucas really did have the Midas touch. But then along came Howard the Duck, a movie that was met with such negativity that he supposedly disowned it. It was more than ten years after the advent of DVD before Howard the Duck got a release on the format in the United States, and I'm actually surprised that Lucas didn't try to make sure it stayed locked up in the Universal vaults for the rest of eternity. It's one of those movies that the uninitiated can watch and say to themselves, "This is goofy and kinda dumb, but it's not so bad after all." But then once they've had a little time to let the whole thing sink in, they suddenly realize, "Holy crap, what did I watch?"

Over the more than two decades since the movie's release, Lucas has been forced to shoulder a lot of the blame for this movie. And really, I don't think that's fair. He was just the movie's executive producer. All Lucas did was front the money; it was up to other people to spend it. If I had to point the finger of blame at anyone in particular, it would probably be at the husband/wife filmmaking team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. The whole thing is just a mess. From Huyck's muddled, hackneyed direction to his and Katz's dreadful script, they honestly could not have believed that this movie would have been successful. It honestly feels like Huyck and Katz had no idea what kind of movie they wanted to make.

The actual plot doesn't kick in until halfway through the movie, and even then, there's all this other stuff that just goes on way too damn long. Did we really need the scene where Howard beats up Beverly's band's manager and his buddies? Did the scene where Howard and Phil steal an ultralight aircraft and get chased by the police absolutely need to take up so much time? That's not even the worst of it, because there's other, worse parts that really make you wonder what audience this movie was intended for. The concept of an alien duck stranded on Earth, the fantasy elements, all the really bad duck puns, and some of the sillier moments might lend themselves to a movie made for children. It's even rated PG, too. But then there's the scene where a half-naked Beverly starts putting the moves on Howard. And before that, there's the scene where Howard gets a job as a towel boy at a bathhouse. And it's all topped off with the female duck's exposed breasts in the first five minutes. No, I am not making any of that up. Go watch the movie if you don't believe me, I dare you.

How did they manage to get attempted bestiality, a bathhouse, and duck tits by with only a PG rating? Did somebody slip the MPAA ratings board a little money under the table to avoid a harsher rating? And how do you justify trying to balance all that adult stuff with the more kid-friendly stuff? It's these grossly mishandled shifts in tone that only makes the movie even more frustrating to watch.

One of the oddest things about the movie, though, is how the characters interact with Howard. Only Tim Robbins's character seems really blown away by the fact that he's in the presence of a talking duck from another world. Beverly quickly finds herself falling in love with Howard, while others react with either sheer terror or outright hostility. But pretty much everyone who doesn't act with fear or anger treats him like he's just a regular guy in a goofy costume. And you could kinda understand everyone else's sentiment too. Yeah, the Howard costume was pretty good by 1986 standards. They supposedly spent two million dollars developing it, which is a number that blows me away even now, in today's world of super-high effects budgets. But nowadays, it isn't 100% convincing.

I mean, it's hard to suspend your disbelief when your main character has trouble making you believe he isn't really a gaggle of midgets wearing an animatronic duck mask. Although we can see that Howard is actually there on the set interacting with everyone, he still never feels quite real. It feels less like it's Howard the Duck there, and more like it's somebody wearing the world's coolest Howard the Duck costume. That's really all that can be said about it. The same can be said for the stop motion effects during Howard's climactic battle with the Dark Overlord at the end. The effects aren't perfect, but they're not totally awful either.

Last up is our cast, who I'm pretty sure all dread the fact that they're forever connected to this movie. Our leading lady, Lea Thompson, was on a real hot streak after her appearances in Red Dawn and Back to the Future. But if you want to know exactly when her career crashed and burned, you can look to 1986. Even before Howard the Duck, there was SpaceCamp, a movie inspired by the U.S. Space Camp in Alabama. The movie wasn't all that successful, due in part to it being unfortunately released only six months after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

But SpaceCamp's lack of success was only compounded by Howard the Duck. This movie alone pretty much killed her career dead for a decade. In the nine years between Howard the Duck and Thompson landing the lead role on Caroline in the City, the only notable things she did were the Back to the Future sequels. That is, unless you want to extol the virtues of her roles in the early-'90s triple-threat of the movie versions of Dennis the Menace, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Little Rascals.

The coma her career went into aside, Thompson is... okay. She's not bad, she's not good. She's just adequate. And that's terrible, because being adequate doesn't really give me a whole lot to work with when writing these reviews. I'll give Thompson credit for doing her own vocals for her character's band's songs, and the fact that she managed to maintain a straight face while strutting around in her underwear as she seduces a talking duck is amazing. I'm pretty sure that trying to hang onto any tiny shred of dignity while wearing a hideous hairstyle and clothes that Cyndi Lauper would have thrown away must have been be hard work, too. But other than that, she's rather unremarkable.

Tim Robbins is in this movie too, and it nearly killed his career before it even got started. I'm actually surprised he even got any work at all after this, let alone an Academy Award. The long and short of it is that he basically acts like an insufferable jackass for the entire movie. Seriously, every time he shows up, he does something stupid and it makes me want to jump into the movie and put him in a chokehold. Robbins is that awful. But it's not like the script does him any favors. I mean, he's required to make something resembling quacking noises for no reason other than the writers thought it would be funny. But it isn't funny, and it makes Robbins look stupid. I'm willing to bet that thanks to this movie, his career would have been dead in the water had he not been hired for Bull Durham.

And then there's Chip Zien, the voice of Howard. Zien's work would have been serviceable had it not been for all the terrible jokes and puns and utter nonsense. But thanks to the bad writing, it just makes him a pain to listen to. And if you don't want to even listen to a movie, somebody's doing something wrong.

At least we get a decent performance out of Jeffrey Jones. Jones is one of the very, very few bright spots in this movie. Though considering this is Howard the Duck we're talking about, "good" should probably equate to "less bad." But in all honesty, Jones takes the opportunity to go completely insane as his character becomes inhabited by the Dark Overlord of the Universe. He doesn't just chew the scenery; he puts it between two pieces of bread and eats it like a sandwich. His outrageous overacting is just too much fun. Although in a movie this stupid, any fun is better than no fun. Am I right?

Though many great movies came out in 1980s, there were also a whole lot of stinkers too. But very few of those bad movies have maintained both the cult following and the level of vitriol that have followed Howard the Duck since its release. It's one of those movies that's both hated and beloved for the exact same reasons. And even though it's a terrible, terrible movie, it's still charming in a "so bad, it's good" kind of way.

Unfortunately, there's actually precious little in this movie that is legitimately good. We've got Jeffrey Jones's overacting, a scene with a half-naked Lea Thompson, and some good music. No kidding, the movie's music is actually pretty rockin'. From John Barry's score to the songs written by Thomas Dolby (many of which, as I noted earlier, feature Thompson's real vocals), the music is one of the few things about the movie that could be called a redeeming factor.

It still, however, doesn't change the fact that Howard the Duck is really bad. It's not quite Superman IV bad or Catwoman bad, and it thankfully isn't Uwe Boll bad. It's just one of those movies where its ambition is weighed down by too many bad ideas. I can't justify giving Howard the Duck anything more than one and a half stars. It can be fun if it catches you in the right mood, but still... meh. I know Marvel has chosen to give the Punisher, Captain America, and the Fantastic Four new starts after their initially disastrous cinematic outings, but I think a Howard the Duck film franchise should stay dead.

Final Rating:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Superhero Movie (2008)

Of all the different kinds of comedy movie, there's a particular brand known as the spoof. They gained prominence in the '70s and '80s with classics like Airplane! and the Naked Gun trilogy, while other flicks like Johnny Dangerously, Spy Hard, Hot Shots, and the work of Mel Brooks have made their own contribution to the genre over the years. They might have taken on different subjects, but they were all unified in the way they went about it. Instead of singling out certain movies, they set out to lampoon a certain genre and use its clich├ęs for comedic purposes. And in my opinion, they were better movies for it.

But that idea changed at the turn of the twenty-first century, when Keenan Ivory Wayans unleashed Scary Movie upon the world. Scary Movie did the exact opposite of the parodies that came before it, using gross-out humor to blatantly mock and imitate popular horror movies. It was a thoroughly mediocre movie, but it proved successful enough to inspire a number of sequels and clones.

While Not Another Teen Movie was actually an okay movie, the majority of these Scary Movie wannabes have been absolutely dreadful. Go watch Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, and Disaster Movie, and tell me they aren't horrible. The movies are basically vehicles for the directors to find as many ways to inflict physical punishment upon as many celebrities and famous characters from other movies as they can before the closing credits roll. But with teen movies, date movies, disaster movies, and blockbusters having gotten the "_____ Movie" treatment, it was eventually time for comic book adaptations to be the subject of a lame parody. And that's just what we got with Superhero Movie.

Rick Riker (Drake Bell) is your typical high school loser. He's regularly abused by bullies, and he carries an unrequited torch for Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton), the pretty girl next door that doesn't even know Rick exists. The only people who'll even give him so much as the time of day are his aunt and uncle (Marion Ross and Leslie Nielsen), and his only friend, Trey (Kevin Hart). Rick's pitiful life eventually takes an eventful turn when, during a school field trip to an animal research lab, he is bitten by a genetically altered dragonfly. The bite imbues him with super-strength, the ability to walk on walls, and almost total invulnerability. Oddly enough, his abilities don't allow him to fly, which is kinda weird considering it was a dragonfly that caused all this. Anyway, Rick chooses to use his newfound powers to become a masked superhero dubbed "The Dragonfly."

And every good superhero needs an archenemy as well. Terminally ill scientist Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald) has created a machine that could potentially cure his illness. However, the machine malfunctions during the initial run and instead of curing him, Landers is instead finds himself able to suck the life from people and use it to prolong his own. Each person he drains only provides a temporary fix, but Landers deduces that if he were to drain several thousands of people at once, he would become immortal. Landers adopts the criminal persona of "Hourglass" to achieve this goal, eventually bringing him into conflict with Rick, who tries desperately to save the city and get the girl.

The recent glut of spoof movies have given us nothing but a bunch of movies that are each more stupid than the last. But the odd thing is that Superhero Movie is actually better than much of its brethren. It helps that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer — the wastes of space behind the majority of the "_____ Movie" disasters — had nothing to do with this one. That works in the movie's favor, as it elevates it from total garbage to the level of merely lame and mediocre at best. While the movie could have been better, it could have been a whole heck of a lot times worse. It tries desperately to both fit in with the style while standing alone as its own movie, which ultimately does it more harm than good.

When it comes to direction, movies like this don't need to be very complex. In truth, comedy is most often best done when it's kept simple. Craig Mazin keeps this in mind, as his work is effective in its simplicity. And outside of some cheap-looking production value, an instance of very ugly CGI, and some obvious green screen work, Mazin's directorial work is okay. His writing, however, could have used quite a bit of work. A lot of the jokes unfortunately fall flat.

But I'll give him credit for writing a movie with a coherent plot that, for the most part, actually sticks to the genre it's supposed to be lampooning. The spoofs made by Friedberg and Seltzer overload themselves on excessively random pop culture references that are completely unrelated to their central themes. For example, what does Chris Crocker's "leave Britney alone!" YouTube video have to do with a parody of 300, besides making the movie even more annoying? Or why do Iron Man, Batman, Hellboy, the Incredible Hulk, Indiana Jones, Hannah Montana, Flavor Flav, Jessica Simpson, Justin Timberlake, Dr. Phil, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Beowulf, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and characters from Hancock, Juno, 10,000 B.C., Superbad, No Country for Old Men, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Speed Racer, Kung Fu Panda, High School Musical, The Love Guru, Sex in the City, Enchanted, and Wanted appear in what's supposed to be a parody of disaster movies?

Mazin does commit this offense a few times, with a running gag involving Stephen Hawking and a parody of Tom Cruise's leaked videos about Scientology. While I don't really understand the point of the Hawking bits, Mazin does try tying the Tom Cruise joke into superhero movies. But alas, the joke just isn't funny. And seriously, did we need the Stephen Hawking gags? I'll admit to chuckling a bit at the thought of him being depicted as a lecherous pervert, but did we really need to have him get beat up in every one of his scenes? Isn't that a bit distasteful? Or did I miss the announcement that the repeated abuse of a handicapped person was funny now?

I also think it's odd that with a genre as diverse as superhero movies, Mazin chose to focus primarily on the first Spider-Man movie. Why a movie that was six years old at the time, and not something relatively more recent? Maybe it was to keep that more coherent plot I mentioned, but references to movies outside of Spider-Man are few and far between. There's a quick parody of the scene where Bruce Wayne's parents die in Batman Begins, characters from X-Men and Fantastic Four have cameos, and there's references to the curiously frequent alliteration seen in the naming of comic book characters.

But other than that, it's all Spider-Man. I mean, I'm not really sure how this would be a parody of the entire genre. Did Friedberg and Seltzer use up all the other superhero movies during their spoofs? And what's with actually having characters from X-Men and Fantastic Four actually in the movie? Could Mazin not make a "_____ Movie" without having the gag where something incredibly stupid happens to characters from other, better movies? Did we need the scene where Professor Xavier's annoyingly sassy female doppelganger beats up the Invisible Woman? Did we need to see Wolverine using his claws to shave his legs? Did we need the scene where the Human Torch is surprised when he actually catches fire, and Dragonfly tries to put him out? Did we even really need the whole subplot where Professor Xavier tries to contact our main character? It's not like these scenes actually contribute anything to the movie. They go on way too long, they don't lead anywhere, and they don't add to the story. It makes me think that they were only added to serve as filler.

Remove the characters from other movies, the Tom Cruise and Stephen Hawking jokes, and other needless scenes that wear out their welcome incredibly quickly (one where Rick is practically gang-raped by animals, another where Rick almost gives away his hiding place due to an inability to hold his urine, and one more where a romantic moment between Rick and Jill is repeatedly interrupted by a ninety-second fart joke), and the movie's surprisingly short 75-minute theatrical running time would have been reduced to just a little over an hour. But not only does it prove that these scenes weren't very good when only padding the running time, but it shows that Mazin apparently couldn't come up with enough material for a longer movie. (Though I am perplexed by the fact that they created an 85-minute extended cut for the DVD, along with putting a few deleted scenes on there as extra features. Why not just restore the deleted scenes, and release the whole thing in theaters instead of that super-short theatrical cut?)

Rounding out the movie are the actors, many of whom are unfortunately just kinda there. It's the cast that makes or breaks comedies, and it really doesn't help that most of the time, it feels like they aren't even trying here. I can't say I really blame them, since a lot of the jokes are awful. But come on now, they could have least done a little more to earn their paychecks. I will admit, though, there are some bright spots in regards to the acting. For starters, I liked Drake Bell's work. After spending the better part of the decade appearing on kid-oriented sitcoms on Nickelodeon, Bell gets his first real chance at mainstream success here. He makes the most of it, putting forth a funny performance even when the material fails to do him any favors.

Bell manages to pull off the physical comedy like a pro, and even the really awful jokes are a bit better thanks to him. Granted, he can't save every joke. But he does what he can, and I can't fault him for that. I also enjoyed Christopher McDonald's performance as well. He chews the scenery in every scene he's in, and makes things all the more entertaining. I really can't quite say the same for Sara Paxton, though. She's cute and all, but she doesn't really do anything to make herself a memorable part of the movie.

Among the supporting cast, I liked Kevin Hart and Brent Spiner in their small parts, and I felt that Tracy Morgan was okay in his ultimately pointless role. And if I never see Regina Hall in another movie, I'll be okay with that. And rounding out the cast, we have Marion Ross and Leslie Nielsen. Ross is thoroughly wasted, her only really notable moment coming via a very unfunny fart joke. Excessive farting may have been funny in Blazing Saddles, but thirty-five years later, it isn't funny anymore. And I liked Nielsen, but you really get the feeling that he's resigned himself to doing spoof movies for the rest of his life. You never hear about anybody hiring him based on his work in Creepshow or the original Prom Night. It's always Airplane! or The Naked Gun instead. Maybe it's because he can get an easier paycheck doing spoof movies, I don't know.

You know, I decided to skip Superhero Movie during its theatrical run. I figured that it would have been just as terrible as all the other recent spoof movies, which would have left me burning with such a white-hot rage that my fury would have reduced the entire theater reduced to a pile of smoldering ash. But it turns out that Superhero Movie wasn't so bad after all. No, I couldn't call it a good movie. But as a guilty pleasure, it works. The movie is actually really confusing, to tell you the truth. A lot of the jokes aren't funny, and the satiric moments aren't very witty.

But a part of me wants to like it. Is it due to the whole superhero thing? I'm not sure, but I almost feel ashamed of myself. At least it's better than the Friedberg/Seltzer spoofs, so it has that going for it. So I guess I'll give Superhero Movie two and a half stars on my typical five-star scale. Maybe one day, they'll find a way to do a parody of all these parodies. But then again, why would somebody want to make a movie that would be that bad, even intentionally?

Final Rating: **½