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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Anyone else feeling utterly spoofed out? When the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker filmmaking team made Airplane! back in 1980, they invented their own brand-new style of screen comedy. Films like The Naked Gun and Top Secret were Mad magazine cartoons come to life, and they were packed with wall-to-wall zaniness. In the 90ís, we moved on to the Hot Shots pictures (good, but not as good) and Spy Hard (pretty bad). And now Ė in whatever weíre calling this decade Ė we come to the Scary Movie series, plus the abominable trio of spoofs from Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg: Date Movie, Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans. (Undoubtedly three of the worst comedies ever made.)

With all the superhero movies weíve also been getting over the last eight years, itís kind of hard to believe that no one has stepped up to spoof them. Oh, wait Ė they have! Look, up in the sky! Itís a bird! Itís a plane! Itís Superhero Movie!

[crickets chirping]

Okay, the good news is that this one actually isnít terrible. (Howís that for damning a film with faint praise?) Airplane! co-creator David Zucker is on board as producer, and writer/director Craig Mazin has worked with him for a long time and has at least picked up a few pointers. And rather than merely seeing how many other pictures it can reference in a short time frame, Superhero Movie generally sticks close to the Spider-Man template, only occasionally tossing in a jab at other Marvel/DC-inspired flicks.

Itís all rather simple: Geeky teenage boy Rick (Drake Bell) gets bitten by radioactive dragonfly during class field trip and realizes he has gained superhuman powers as a result. He uses them to woo class hottie Jill (Sara Paxton) whom he has never been able to approach. Rick also dons a costume and squares off against madman scientist Lou Landers (Christopher McDonald), who has likewise gained powers during an experiment gone awry. Landers becomes the villain known as Hourglass. Toss in Leslie Nielsen as an Uncle Ben-like character and youíve got the whole deal.

Superhero Movie is the living definition of ďhit or miss.Ē Parts of it admittedly made me laugh out loud, but for every joke that scored, there were two that didnít. Oddly, the film is funniest when satirizing modern technology, such as iPods, Facebook, and Web MD. Youíd think that a comedy attempting to spoof comic book pictures would be at its best making fun of, you know, superheroes. But the truth is that Dragonfly isnít all that hilarious a character. How about having Rick get bitten by a radioactive ladybug? Surely, there would be some laughs inherent in a teenage boy running around in a homemade ladybug costume.

The stuff thatís funniest tends to be the peripheral stuff: out-of-nowhere sight gags, cameos from people like Jeffrey Tambor (who truly understands the need to play it completely straight for maximum comedy value), and the most outrageous extended fart joke since Blazing Saddles. Save for a brief sequence in which Rick visits a superhero school similar to Professor Xavierís in X-Men, the comic book parodies are often surprisingly limp.

Like the other recent spoofs, Superhero Movie runs about an hour and 15 minutes. The end credits are then interrupted for (literally) a full ten minutes of unused footage and bloopers. Itís not like going to see a movie; itís more like going to see a DVD. You watch the feature film first, then sit through the bonus material. In this case, there are so many deleted scenes and outtakes that I half expected a making-of documentary to pop up as well.

This style of comedy used to be an artistic choice. Filmmakers like the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team used it to poke fun at the conventions of genre films. These days, the spoof has become less of a choice and more of an obligation. Any screen genre that becomes popular must automatically have a movie that parodies it. There seems to be less overall thought given to the recent entries. They simply donít try as hard. Pictures like Airplane! and The Naked Gun often worked on two levels: there was a joke happening in the foreground, but also one happening simultaneously in the background. (Remember the scene in Airplane! when Lloyd Bridges slams his hand on the desk while a watermelon falls from the sky directly behind him?) As a result, those older spoofs made me laugh so hard that I often thought Iíd wet myself. If one joke didnít work, you only had to wait half a second for the next one to come around. The recent spoofs have about half the number of jokes. They may occasionally generate a stray laugh, yet they never achieve that consistency of hilarity that initially made spoofs so irresistible.

But now Iím reviewing the genre rather than reviewing Superhero Movie, arenít I? Itís kind of inevitable; the spoofs have become tiresome, and itís time to give them a rest. Yet, in fairness, Superhero Movie is better than it could have been. While no one is going to mistake it for a classic like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, it at least made me laugh occasionally, and a few times it made me laugh hard. Thatís more than I can say for Date Movie and Epic Movie, which only made me want to find the filmmakers and smack them back into the Stone Age.

( 1/2 out of four)

Superhero Movie is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, comic violence, drug references and language. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

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