The best that can be said for “Superhero Movie” is that, despite a lazy title that puts you in the mind of wretched parodies like “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie,” it’s not nearly as bad as those. It’s rather benign, actually — never very funny, and never amusing for more than a few moments at a time, but not grating or clownish, either. It has no reason to exist; on the other hand, its existence will not harm anyone.
These are the best praises I can muster for a spoof as slight as this one. At 71 minutes (plus 10 minutes of outtakes and three minutes of credits), it’s short and underdone. It’s also, perhaps, too narrowly focused: Rather than lampoon the entire ripe-for-parody genre of superhero movies, writer/director Craig Mazin (a writer on “Scary Movie 3” and “4”) chooses to do a line-by-line parody of the first “Spider-Man” film specifically. (A couple brief sequences do address the “Batman” and “X-Men” mythologies, too.) And so already the film is dated, since the object of its satire came out six years ago. If it had expanded to mock superhero flicks in general, it might have seemed fresher.
But it’s a lot easier to parody a specific movie than an entire genre. To spoof a genre, you must identify its most common tropes and conventions and then exaggerate them. To spoof a particular film, all you have to do is copy it and twist it slightly. “Spider-Man” had its upside-down kiss scene; “Superhero Movie” replicates it but has the fire-escape ladder that the hero is hanging from slide down at the last second. “Spider-Man” had Peter Parker test his powers by crawling up a brick wall; “Superhero Movie” copies it and then has the kid start breakdancing while vertical.
Ha ha! Get it? It’s just like that movie from 2002, except somewhat different! It’s just like “MAD TV,” except longer, and I had to pay $9 to watch it!
The hero in question is Rick Riker (Drake Bell), a nerdy kid whose story follows the same path as Peter Parker’s, only it’s a dragonfly and not a spider that bites him. Equipped with all the powers of a dragonfly except flight, he fights crime while pining for Jill (Sara Paxton), the pretty girl next door with a douchey boyfriend (Ryan Hansen). Meanwhile, the boyfriend’s uncle, billionaire Lou Landers, (Christopher McDonald), becomes a deadly supervillain.
Mazin gets help from old pals Leslie Nielsen, who plays Rick’s kindly uncle Albert, and David Zucker, who directed the last two “Scary Movies,” along with “Airplane!,” “Top Secret!,” and “The Naked Gun.” Zucker is credited as a producer on “Superhero Movie,” and his rapid-fire absurdist style can occasionally be seen. For example, there is this exchange at Thanksgiving dinner:
LOU LANDERS: I never married.
JILL: (offering him dessert) Fruitcake?
LOU LANDERS: No, I just never found the right woman.
That’s a classic joke structure, typical of Zucker’s work. If “Superhero Movie” had more of that kind of energy, it might have succeeded rather than simply falling flat.
Part of the problem is that the superhero genre has already been spoofed. “Mystery Men” did it; so did Mazin’s own little-seen “The Specials.” For that matter, the superhero films themselves often subvert our expectations or make winking references to the silliness of it all, and they’re often very funny. (Remember Peter Parker’s disastrous first costume?) Mocking a genre that already doesn’t take itself too seriously isn’t much fun.
Like I said, this one’s harmless. The cast (which also includes Marion Ross, Brent Spiner, Jeffrey Tambor, Tracy Morgan, and “Airplane!’s” Robert Hays) is game, and no one overacts — a rare treat in these spoof movies. You might get a few chuckles out of it when you’re flipping channels and see it on TNT next year.
C (1 hr., 24 min.; )