It ain't high art and it sure isn't "brilliant filmmaking," but the arrival of Craig Mazin's Superhero Movie is actually a (small) cause for (minimal) celebration. And here's why: Over the last few years, the word "spoof" has become synonymous with the phrase "wretched non-movie." One need only pick through titles like Date Movie, Epic Movie, The Comebacks and Meet the Spartans to see that the spoof movie is one good place to hide if you're very lazy. Just about every movie freak I know was skeptical of Superhero Movie because they've been burned too often by this sort of schtick -- but I'm pleased to note that Superhero Movie actually represents a (slight) upswing for the oft-maligned sub-genre. It's sure as hell no Airplane! -- but it sure as hell isn't Date Movie, either.
Written and directed by Scary Movie(s) scribe Craig Mazin (and produced by two of the guys responsible for not only Airplane!, but Top Secret!, Hot Shots, and The Naked Gun, too), Superhero Movie is a colorful mixture of the old-school spoof style (thank god for Leslie Nielsen) and the more current crotch- and fart-addicted sensibility. It's very broad, very silly, very episodic, and frequently very sloppy, but (and here's a big but) Superhero Movie succeeds over many of its cousins for one simple reason: It's pretty funny.
The plot will be familiar to anyone who's seen Spider-Man, X-Men, or Batman: A young kid is bitten by a radioactive dragonfly, which leads to the discovery of some really nifty powers. Meanwhile an egotistical scientist gets turned into a maniacal bad guy who needs human souls to stay alive. Pure, obvious comic-book (and comic-book movie) stuff all the way. So while Superhero Movie has only the skimpiest of plots to follow -- there at least IS a plot on some level. You can't really say that about most of the other spoofs.
Lead actor Drake Bell delivers his required payload of confused glances and wacky faces, but the best of Superhero Movie belongs to its supporting players: Jeffrey Tambor as an imbecilic doctor; the ever-blustery Christopher McDonald as the nefarious villain Hourglass; Marion Ross as the horribly flatulent Aunt Lucille (I rarely laugh very hard at fart jokes, but this flick has a really funny one); Tracy Morgan as a chair-bound psychic, and the Lord of Spoof himself -- Leslie Nielsen as Uncle Albert. Nielsen delivers more laughs in seven scenes than Date Movie and Epic Movie combined. When the flick sticks to mocking the conventions of the super-genre, it displays a respectable batting average -- but when Mazin sets his sights on the more topical pop-culture references (TV commercials, Facebook and Wikipedia references, etc.) the movie threatens to head south pretty quick...
As is often the case when dealing with rapid-fire farces like this one (especially one that aims so low and so consistently childish), there are several gags that just drop dead on the screen -- but are often followed by something so silly (or stupid) that your resistance just starts to wear down. "Amiably moronic" is how I'd describe it, but basically I'm just happy to see a mega-silly spoof movie that ISN'T drop-dead awful and / or painful to watch. Superhero Movie is too choppy a flick to be called "good filmmaking," but it's also a bit too funny to dismiss as just another piece of "spoof crap." It's cinematic junk food; I sat, I laughed, I left, I forgot all about it. (But at least I laughed.)