Yup it's the holiday season, and while The Specials is not a Holiday movie, it is an oddly endearing comedy about family, albeit a dysfunctional "family" of superheroes. The Specials are the world's sixth or seventh greatest superhero team. According to the film's opening scrawl, they have spent many a day fighting both natural disasters and super villains, but today is not one of those days. This is because -- with the exception of a brief CGI sequence -- the film's meager budget does not allow the characters to demonstrate their amazing powers. What we are left with is a day or so in the life of a superhero team struggling for respectability, and it seems they're on the verge of attaining it. Kosgro Toys is about to unveil its new line of Specials action figures, which will finally put them in the same league as The Crusaders, The Annihilators, and The Anti-Evil Gang.
The team's newest member is Night Bird (Jordan Ladd), a plucky young lass with bird powers and wide-eyed idealism. We meet most of the team members as she does, and they are, at best, a quirky bunch. The group is lead by the laser-shooting Strobe, played with Shatner-esque nuances and supreme arrogance by Thomas Haden Church (who switches sides and becomes a super villain in Spider-man 3). The Strobe's wife, Ms. Indestructible, played by Paget Brewster, is carrying on an illicit affair with the team's most popular member The Weevil, played by Rob Lowe. Following a truly disastrous roll-out of The Specials' action figures, Strobe learns of the affair and dissolves the team. But what is to become of an unemployed superhero? Deadly Girl (Judy Greer) is asked to join the Femme Five, but it seems unlikely that any other group would want the remaining team members. U.S. Bill (Mike Schwartz) possesses superhuman strength, but makes Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies look like a Mensa candidate. The blue-skinned Amok (Jaime Kennedy) is a former supervillain, which makes him unemployable. The shape-shifting Alien Orphan (Sean Gunn) is new at being a human being and is barely functional -- despite being able to do a dandy impression of Dennis Weaver's boss from McCloud -- and is completely reliant on the pollyanna-ish Power Chick (Kelly Coffield). Minute Man (James Gunn) has trouble getting the world to understand that his name is pronounced My-noot Man, because he has the power to shrink, and is troubled by the fact that people think his costume makes him look gay. Mr. Smart (Jim Zulevic), whose power is his fabulous intellect, is book-smart but otherwise clueless.
The film is peppered with segments reminiscent of The Real World's confessional, in which the action stops and the heroes address the camera directly as if the film has suddenly become a documentary. Deadly Girl sums up her feelings on superhero responsibility by saying, "Last week I got drunk at a Bar Mitzvah, unthinkingly summoned forth demons and ... they ate a kid." Ms. Indestructible laments her career choice by saying "Every morning I look down and I'm wearing boots with lightning bolts on them and I think... 'where did I make the wrong turn?'"
Not all of the jokes work, and the script would have greatly benefited from at least one more re-write. The film was written by James Gunn (who also plays Minute Man), who went on to pen the Dawn of the Dead remake as well as writing and directing Slither. Gunn's wife Jenna Fischer, star of NBC's The Office, can be seen in a cameo. Director Craig Mazin obviously has a love for the genre, as he is set to direct another superhero comedy to be called Superhero!
The Specials was released shortly after Mystery Men, a similarly themed but far less entertaining film with a much higher budget. I doubt the movie would have ever gotten a wide theatrical release, but Mystery Men effectively stole what little thunder The Specials may have had. The film pops up on TV from time to time, it's available on DVD and you can see the trailer here. Give it a look.