Revenge of the nerds, part MMXI.

Down we go into a subcategory of the current robots ‘n’ werewolves trend at the movies: the imperishable archetype of nerd-turns-superhero. That’s the type of flick in which a picked-on noodnik acquires strength, turns the tables on his tormentors, and gets the girl, in that order. Writer-director James Gunn‘s Super manages cheap drips and dabs of fun subverting that juvie premise in the story of Frank D’Arbo (sad sack supreme Rainn Wilson), a lifetime loser who freaks out by rigging a mask-and-tights costume and setting out to right wrongs, à la Kick-Ass.

Right off, it’s absurd that someone with Frank’s baked-potato kisser would have Liv Tyler for a wife. Someone is bound to steal her away — that would be Kevin Bacon, a cartoonish sleazebag bad guy with a gang that includes Michael Rooker. When they get tired of hanging around the strip club and subjecting Tyler’s Sarah to degrading acts, they relax by beating up Frank. In fact, everyone uses the poor fast-food fry cook as a punching bag, until he sews together a red jumpsuit and becomes the Crimson Bolt. The situations are utterly routine, the action padded out to the max.

But there’s a redeeming facet. Once again Ellen Page comes to the rescue, as a comic-store clerk named Libby who cottons to Frank and volunteers to become his sidekick, Boltie. Does Page ever get bored playing slackers in film after film? When is she going to graduate to lawyers or scientists? These and other burning issues will have to wait until after Frank and Libby climb the mountain of triviality that is Super. The whole enterprise has a homemade, Troma Entertainment feel — and sure enough, filmmaker Gunn once directed an episode of Troma’s Edge TV. Predictable as Frank D’Arbo’s plodding adventures might be, he has an advantage that the Toxic Avenger could only dream of: Ellen Page.

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