I know. One look at the cast list of The Specials makes you want to punch someone in the face doesn’t it? “Are you kidding me Bishop?” you scream venomously at your computer monitor. Where does this dick come off making me waste time reading a review about another Rob Lowe or Jamie Kennedy film? Hell, I know there also is a ton of hate for James Gunn. You either despise him because he got to bone Jenna Fischer (by the way they Divorced in 2008), or because he left Troma years ago to pen mighty indie epics such as the Dawn of the Dead remake or those CG doggie films (Scooby Doo for all you morons out there). OK. Get it all out.
Are you still there? Good cause I am here to tell you that this film doesn’t suck. If you have one shred of humor in your body, The Specials will be a film that will sneak up on you and surprise you. While it may seem like your typical low budget superhero parody on it’s surface, Superhero Movie it is not (which surprisingly enough was directed brainlessly by the same person as this, Craig Mazin). The Specials marginal success can be chalked up to James Gunn’s fairly witty script. It is full of well-executed dry humor, instead of blatantly ripping off scenes from other superhero movies and adding completely worn out cultural references to them in the lazy guise of comedy (cough, Superhero Movie). The Specials goes the Mockumentry route, driven by fleshed out original characters who, for the most part, remain interesting and funny the whole film (sans the fucking annoying alien character played by Sean Gunn).
While it may not be a film everyone will enjoy, I feel most people who are into oddball humor, or Christopher Guest fans may find a sleeper on their hands. Supposedly this was the first script that Gunn ever had picked up and is the reason he started getting consistent work. People loved it. It is easy to see why. Even when the cast themselves don’t necessarily deliver the goods, most of the humor is sly enough that the jokes come through anyway. Sometimes the punch lines are accentuated a little too much by the word fuck, like it is some crutch that Gunn feels the need to fall back on habitually. Occasionally the comedy goes unexpected places and will catch you off guard. This aspect is what caught me for the most part. Left hooks where rights would have been commonplace. That is why I haven’t given up on Gunn. He can be really hit and miss, with Slither, Tromeo and Juliet, and Terror Firmer being a prime examples of what he is capable of producing and Lollilove being the direct polar opposite.
The film follows a rag tag group of superheroes called The Specials who take on a new member to their team, egg laying Nightbird (Jordan Ladd). Having been enamored by the team since she was a little girl, Nightbird walks around star struck in their HQ, a run down home in a suburban neighborhood. To her they are what being a superhero is all about. However, in reality they are the bottom of the barrel in the superhero world and the ass end of every joke. Rarely do they ever actually fight crime and the biggest event they have to look forward to is the release of their own line of action figures. The only thing is that at the press conference unveiling the promo for their line, done in classic 80’s He-Man style commercial glory, the action figures look nothing like them (some becoming black when they are white, others suddenly have extremely large breasts, one even becomes a huge blue Viking with a battle ax). After finding out his wife and the charismatic face of the group, The Weevil (Rob Lowe), are having an affair, the group’s leader, The Strobe (Thomas Hayden Church), decides to dissolve the group. Crestfallen, Nightbird seeks out the other members. You already know what the conclusion is. So I will spare you that.
The story itself won’t blow you away by any means, it is the sneaky jokes and genuinely enjoyable performances that will keep you from hitting the eject button. Of all the people, longtime Scrubs writer Mike Schwartz delivers the most idiotically funny performance as strong man/complete moron U.S. Bill. There are scenes with him where the camera lingers just a hint too long and he pulls off what most people wouldn’t be able to accomplish by extending jokes to that uncomfortably funny stage. Should I be laughing at this idiot? Yeah, I was. His jokes are completely dumb, but they work anyway.
Lastly, of all the films I have partially viewed that Jamie Kennedy has loused up, this by far is the best thing I have ever seen him do. Sure one could argue that Gunn has him basically add fuck to every sentence, but he plays a character (a blue guy who could destroy a woman if he actually came inside her because he is made from anti matter) that strips away the normally annoying JK presence. I actually LAUGHED almost every time he was on the screen. That to me is what eventually sold me on this film. If a film could take a comedian that epitomized everything I hated about most comedy today and make him jump out of his comfort zone and play a character that wasn’t just Jamie Kennedy, than it had my undivided attention. Thankfully it also runs at a brisk 82 minutes, so it has that going for it as well.
I know that for the most part this is a pretty glowing review for this film. Yes, it isn’t perfect. Some actors aren’t worth the screen time (Sean Gunn and Kelly Coffield immediately come to mind) and it’s plot is pretty predictable, but if you just go in with low expectations and an open mind, The Specials may be a film you will be glad you gave a chance.
The Specials is on DVD thanks to Anchor Bay Entertainment. The feature itself is nothing to call home about audio or video wise thanks to the film being a fairly low budget endeavor. For what they had to work with the film looks good enough. It is up to Anchor Bay’s usual standard.
The bare bones Special Features consist of commentary tracks, deleted scenes (which should have been put back into the film because they all work well enough to be in there), the action figure TV Commercial (funny when you see it in context but not if you go in cold), a wedding video of The Strobe and Ms Indestructible that was in the film, behind the scenes photos and a Trailer. All of it is pretty standard stuff, but nothing of any real substance. You can cruise through most of the content in a half an hour.
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