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The Specials

Starring Rob Lowe, Thomas Haden Church, Jamie Kennedy and Jordan Ladd
Screenplay by James Gunn
Directed by Craig Mazin

IN SHORT: Psychoanalysis for Superheroes. [Rated R for strong language. 87 minutes]

Long time readers already know that Cranky is into superheroes and comic book characters, so . . . Imagine a world where you had superpowers but weren't good enough to be a member of the X-Men or the Justice League or the Avengers or the mothers of 'em all Justice Society or All Winners Squad. Or even the second tier groups like West Coast Avengers. You would be the seventh best superhero team, The Specials, the supergroup that gets called only as a last resort. They are there for "the oddball, the rebel, the outcast, the geek" as their membership can recite by rote. They also, being seventh down the line on the "must call" list, have a helluva lot of time on their hands Most of it is spent arguing about wide screen television screens for their run down headquarters, arguing about powers and social lives, and waiting for the phone to ring.

Here are the merry men and women of the last gasp band of men in tights: The Weevil (Rob Lowe), who wears antennae as a fashion accessory; The Great Strobe (Thomas Haden Church) who shoots laser beams from his hands and his wife Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster); Strobe's brother, Minuteman (writer James Gunn), who can get real small and desperately needs a costume which doesn't make him look gay; the foul-mouthed, blue-skinned, red-eyed, horny-as-hell ex-supervillain Amok (Jamie Kennedy), possessor of antimatter powers; the halfway to Goth but cuter than the rest of em Deadly Girl (Judy Greer), who communes with demons and can teleport via trips through the Land of the Dead. Filling out the membership: Mr. Smart (Jim Zulevic) and the mentally dense US Bill (Mike Schwartz), the enthusiastic Power Chick (Kelly Coffield) and the green-skinned Alien Orphan (Sean Gunn) she mothers.

"With Superpowers comes Super-Responsibility," Strobe is fond of saying -- and having met Stan Lee numerous times over the last thirty years, The Man is probably grinning at the nod. Thomas Haden Church's delivery, with stern face and slightly vacant eyes had this fanboy was grinning. The Strobe character is an ass, fond of making pronouncements and allegories that quickly twist into the land of the near perverse. He is also quite unaware of the secretive glances zipping back and forth between his wife and The Weevil.

In traditional style, a newbie comes to the group -- Nightbird (Jordan Ladd), who could be a superhero groupie if she didn't possess mysterious bird powers --- giving them all an opportunity to introduce themselves and their powers. Problem is, in this universe, the femme fanboy knows all that stuff, which leaves only one way to introduce those powers to the audience. A way far beyond the limited budget of this picture.

We understand that almost no budget for special effects means that we have to be told instead of shown, breaking one of the cardinal rules of first semester screenwriting classes everywhere. As for the script, good gags punctuate the first half of The Specials. Unfortunately, everything goes quickly downhill in the second half, when all talk defeats no action despite a great story gimmick involving action figures. It's a story about superheroes. We need to see something super. If not a battle, at least some passing demonstration of powers. The closest we get is a supporting character called The VIII -- eight bodies with one mind -- but it comes too late in the story to kick things back into gear.

The Specials, which is produced by the same names that did the very funny (if you got the jokes) Free Enterprise and written by the same guy that penned Tromeo and Juliet have an obvious love of comics and a budget so small that there's almost nothing they can do with that love. Rob Lowe shows, once again, that a good actor can take little and make it interesting. Mike Schwartz, as the imbecilic US Bill, is overused and Church has already been praised a couple of 'graphs up.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Specials, he would have paid...


which is pay-per-view level, and I'm being kind. If you harbor any fond recollection of things from the four-color pages, The Specials is a more than amusing flick before it runs out of steam. If you don't, the movie is probably to be avoided. The occasional very funny lines coming out of the mouths of the characters like Strobe are offset by gratuitous obscenities spewing from Amok, which could kill any fun to be found.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.