March 30, 2008 / 7:23 PM / in 10 years

"Superhero Movie" good for a few mild laughs

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The only surprising thing about “Superhero Movie” is that, in an era when big-screen parodies are released seemingly every other week, it took this long for the venerable comic book genre to receive the treatment.

Otherwise a fairly standard entry that at least is better than January’s lamentable “Meet the Spartans,” this spoof demonstrates that David Zucker, one of the film’s producers, has come a long way from the glory days of “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun.”

The other distinguishing factor of the film, which was released Friday without being screened for the press, is that its screenplay doesn’t come from the usual gaggle of scribes but rather is solely the creation of Craig Mazin, who also directed. “Superhero” earned an estimated $9.5 million during its first weekend, about half of what “Spartans” opened to.

The story line takes its main inspiration from “Spider-Man,” relating how young dweeb Rick Riker (Drake Bell) is transformed into Dragonfly via a bite from a mutated insect. In between pining for his schoolmate Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton), he finds himself battling the forces of evil, most notably Hourglass (Christopher McDonald), the villainous alter ego of a billionaire industrialist.

The freewheeling satire also incorporates elements of “Batman,” principally with a back-story involving the death of Rick’s parents (the father is played by “Airplane!” star Robert Hays); “Fantastic Four”; “X-Men”; and, all too briefly, “Superman.”

The gags arrive at the usual breakneck pace, albeit mostly producing quiet chuckles rather than belly laughs. The major exception, at least for the mostly quiet audience at an opening-day matinee, was an extended fart scene involving poor “Happy Days” mom Marion Ross that mainly demonstrated the filmmaker’s apparent desire to top the one in “Blazing Saddles.”

A host of familiar faces from film and television comedies pop up for brief appearances, mainly to little effect. They include Tracy Morgan, Brent Spiner, Pamela Anderson, Regina Hall (another genre pro, having appeared in all the “Scream” films), Dan Castellaneta and Jeffrey Tambor, among others.

A comforting factor is provided via the presence of Leslie Nielsen, with the parody veteran supplying his usual brand of deadpan hilarity as Rick’s addled uncle.

Some of the gags, like a necrophilia joke, seem particularly tasteless given the PG-13 rating. As also has become standard, the already seemingly endless credits are further extended via numerous deleted scenes, some of which are funnier than those that appear in the film proper. They make apparent that several performers, like Craig Bierko (doing a Wolverine parody) had their roles significantly cut.

Cast:

Rick Riker/Dragonfly: Drake Bell

Jill Johnson: Sara Paxton

Lou Landers/Hourglass; Christopher McDonald

Uncle Albert: Leslie Nielsen

Trey: Kevin Hart

Aunt Lucille: Marion Ross

Lance Landers: Ryan Hansen

Dr. Strom: Brent Spiner

The Invisible Girl: Pamela Anderson

Dr. Xavier: Tracy Morgan

Mrs. Xavier: Regina Hall

Human Torch: Simon Rex

Director-screenwriter: Craig Mazin; Producers: Craig Mazin, Robert K. Weiss, David Zucker; Executive producers: Matthew Stein, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein; Director of photography: Thomas E. Ackerman; Production designer: Bob Ziembicki; Music: James L. Venable; Co-producer: Scott Tomlinson; Costume designer: Carol Ramsey; Editor: Craig Herring.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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