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By Shane M. Dallmann

Well, here comes the perfect second half of a double bill with KICK-ASS. Too similar, too soon? Not a bit of it… imagine the latter film crossed with Bill Paxton’s FRAILTY and you might get an idea of where SUPER runs with the “self-made superhero” concept.

Our earnest-but-blah protagonist is Frank (Rainn Wilson), a devoutly religious short-order cook who has just lost his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) to the charmingly oily Jock (Kevin Bacon). Ah, but has Sarah simply chosen to walk out on Frank because he’s boring and uninteresting? Or has Jock preyed on her chemical weaknesses and effectively kidnapped her (as Frank tries to persuade the police)? Either way, Frank is left alone and devastated, with only God to turn to… and God manifests himself in mysterious ways, indeed–from a cable program featuring a religious superhero by the name of The Holy Avenger… to a hentai-flavored hallucination (you don’t want to miss this).

Long story short, Frank decides that he has been chosen to fight evil–rescuing Sarah is his main priority, but as The Crimson Bolt, he’s going to retaliate against any and all wrongdoing he happens to witness. And in the meantime, his research puts him in the company of a young comic book store employee named Libby (Ellen Page), who comes down with a huge case of hero worship…

This is one amazingly well-acted movie. Wilson, Page and Bacon are all superb, and as we have writer/director James Gunn (THE SPECIALS) at the helm, we’re treated to all sorts of pleasantly familiar faces throughout the story (Michael Rooker is one of Jock’s main goons, and we get superhero-flavored cameos by the likes of Lloyd Kaufman and William Katt).

The laughs are plentiful and raucous–and yet even in the early going, one gets the sense that this is going to cut a lot deeper before it’s all over. When Frank prays sincerely after his humiliation, he does say some funny things, but you just can’t bring yourself to laugh at the guy–he’s hurting badly and Wilson won’t let you forget that. Your reaction to the overall film is going to depend on your threshold for bad taste comedy–it’s up to you to decide when your initial laughter at the vigilante antics of the Crimson Bolt is going to segue into startled gasps–and from there into involuntary cringes. But no matter when you feel it, you just know that the tone is going to shift. And when it does? It will suffice for me to say that the couple in front of me “bolted” from the theatre during the last fifteen minutes of SUPER–and that there’s a reason this film went out unrated.

I didn’t bolt. I stayed with it because I had to see how it turned out and because I was in legitimate awe of the way Gunn and company had successfully manipulated my emotions. SUPER is one of the most engaging, original and profoundly moving films I’ve seen so far this year, and it comes with my highest recommendation. Just brace yourself.