Thursday, April 07, 2005

What I'm Renting: The Specials...

The Specials is a small, idiosyncratic comedy about a small potatoes and highly dysfunctional superhero group, who we never see doing superhero stuff. The film was probably doomed to obscurity anyway, given the lack of special effects and stuff, but the final nail in the coffin was the mega-failure of the somewhat similar, although much higher budgeted and much worse Mystery Men.

The movie revolves around the day-to-day life of a superhero team that isn’t called into action much, and who spend most of their time getting on each other’s nerves. Team leader Ted, aka The Strobe (exquisitely played by recent Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church), constantly veers from grating sincerity about being a superhero—he has a hilarious origin story speech that’s one of the film’s highlights—to outright unbearable pomposity.

The Strobe’s utterly unironic boosterism and gladhanding rubs the more cynical members of the team, including The Weevil (Rob Lowe) and Amok (Jamie Kennedy), the wrong way. As well, Ted’s marriage to Emily, aka Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), is on the rocks. The other team members, including Deadly Girl (Judy Greer of Arrested Development), Mr. Smart, Minute Man (‘minute’ as in small, not as in ‘sixty seconds’), Power Chick, US Bill, Eight (a gestalt mind split sharing eight bodies) and Alien Orphan all just hang out and generally bitch at one another. Meanwhile, Nightbird (Jordan Ladd) is a new member, allowing us to meet the team as she does.

The group is finally hitting the big time: They are getting action figures. However, the roll out PR dinner is a disaster, and it is immediately followed by Ted discovering that Emily is cheating on him. (It’s a mark of why the film works as well as it does that you really feel how devastating this is for what has been up to now sort of a joke character.) What should have been a night of triumph ends in the group being dissolved.

I’ve written before about ‘quirky’ movies, and how they either tend to strike a real cord with viewers or conversely come across as awful. Several of the scenes I really dug in the movie, including a dance sequence that might auger the reformation of the group, and more especially a scene in a diner with Eight confronting Ted about the group’s future, are mentioned in the commentaries to have come in for special complaint from some audience members.

There are many tantalizing signs of a lot more background to the characters. For instance, although Strobe’s general ass-atude is played up a lot in the final cut, he apparently has his own supportive clique in the group. (As you’d expect, since he is the leader.) When Deadly Girl learns that Emily has cheated on Ted, she immediately punches her. Deadly Girl is clearly pissed on Ted’s behalf here, and taking the side of her friend. Since we often see the more vocal members of the team beating on the admittedly oft-obnoxious Strobe, it would have been nice to get into the fact that other members of the team are his buddies.

The Specials is one of those ideas that would work a lot better as a TV show. However, considering the lack of financial success, and the fact that an anti-superhero show is sort of an abstract idea (and has already failed with The Tick, whose fans would presumably dig this movie a lot), that’s pretty unlikely.

Moreover, even for a movie you’d never get some of this cast back. Although Lowe was a moving force behind getting the film made, he apparently became disenchanted with the project by the time it was finished. Of course, considering the failure of his post-West Wing career, he might be available again soon.

However, it’s hard to imagine Thomas Haden Church, hot right now due to his Best Supporting Oscar nomination for Sideways, coming back to the fold. And Jamie Kennedy probably is doing well enough that he doesn’t need the hassle. (Although, after Son of the Mask…) The problem isn’t so much that they are all huge stars now, but rather than they are all busy working actors, and getting everyone’s schedule to mesh would be highly unlikely.

The recently released DVD for the film features twin commentaries, one by the film’s director, producer and writer (James Gunn, who also plays Minute Man), and an ever better one featuring Gunn and Brewster. This one is a lot more gossipy, and especially memorable for Brewster’s oft-erupting animosity towards Jessica Alba, who of course is soon to star in a rather more high profile superhero movie.


At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Governor Breck said...

I think I'm the only person on the planet who liked Mystery Men. Zoolander too. And I don't even like Ben Stiller that much.

Ken, what's with the animosity towards Jessica Alba? Not so much in this post (although you did take pains to mention that the commentary track bashed her) but in several other places onthis blog you seem to go out of your way to bash her. I'm not a fanboy: I've never seen a single episode of Dark Angel and I can't even conjure up a good image of her in my head. Are you ticked because she got cast as Sue Storm (or whoever)? Hey man, it's not her fault she got cast - it's probably just another paying gig to her. Yeah, sure she's kind of a nitwitted 20 something Hollywood sexpot, but if you start hating all of those you're not going to have a lot time for anything else.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I don't have any personal animosity towards Ms. Alba, although yes, her utter miscasting as Sue Storm is more than a little irksome. That's the director's fault, however, not hers.

However, Brewster's beating on her in the commentary is hilarious. I'm sure I'd feel the same if she were ragging on Hillary Duff or Paris Hilton, so it's not Alba-specific.

The only time I bashed (well, poked fun at) Alba personally was when she made what I considered some rather desperately lurid publicity comments about going to strip clubs drunk to 'research' her role in Sin City. However, in other comments I noted that she was well-cast in that film, if not in FF.

Anyway, she'll be out of the public eye soon, and then we won't be thinking of her much at all.

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous KurtVon said...

I rather liked "Mystery Men" too, although it did have a number of serious missteps I can see turning off many people.

And who knows, Jessica Alba may just be one of those people who drives their fellow actors nuts on set. I've encountered more than a few of those in children's theater, I'm sure it extends to the professional levels.

At 1:28 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Actually, Brewster had dinner with her a couple of times. (Alba was dating a guy who briefly appears in the movie.) I guess what struck me as funny was that Brewster was willing to go after somebody by name, unusual in a town in which few ever risk pissing off somebody who could help or hurt them in getting a job.

Funnier was the way she couldn't let it go. She'd start backtracking ("Well, that kind of success at 20 must be hard"), and then five minutes late out of the blue she'd start spouting off again. Again, it has nothing to do with Alba per se, but it's mighty funny to listen to.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Cullen M. M. Waters said...

I rather like Mystery Men, too, but it's one of those movies that should have been better than they actually are.

At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Chris M said...

I don't know if the success of the also similarly-themed The Incredibles would hurt or help a wider audience for this film. It seems the only time people are interested in superheroes anymore is when their private lives are being examined.

Nonetheless, I eagerly await this flick's DVD release down under.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

I kind of liked Mystery Men as well, more for the rock-star/sports hero parallels than much else (though I liked Wes Studi's dim aphorisms).

Is this the sames James Gunn who wrote the Dawn of the Dead remake and the Scooby Doo films? Those turned out much better than I thought possible.


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