Directed By: Craig Mazin
Starring: Rob Lowe, Thomas Haden Church, Paget Brewster
Tag Line: "It doesn't take much to save the world"
Trivia: James Gunn wrote the screenplay in just two weeks
Superhero movies are all the rage right now, thanks mostly to Marvel’s emergence as a cinematic powerhouse. Movies like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and the mash-up spectacular that was 2012’s The Avengers have turned comic book heroes into a billion-dollar phenomenon, thrilling audiences with tons of action and stellar special effects. Produced well before this craze got underway, 2000’s The Specials (written by James Gunn, who directed one of 2014’s most entertaining films, Guardians of the Galaxy) may not feature the action and high-tech gadgetry of Marvel’s recent outings, but as superhero comedies go, this one’s got plenty to offer.
While not the most popular team of heroes, The Specials have nonetheless saved the world (well, parts of it, anyway) a number of times. Led by The Strobe (Thomas Haden-Church), who can shoot lasers out of his arms, The Specials normally face off against “low-priority” villains, and deal with the problems the “first-string” superheroes are too busy to tackle. This usually keeps The Specials out of the headlines, but it has earned them a small, very loyal cult following.
We join The Specials on a very important day. First, they’re welcoming a new hero into their ranks, a teenage girl who goes by the name “Nightbird” (Jordan Ladd), and supposedly has bird-like abilities. Having been a fan of The Specials for years, Nightbird can’t hide her excitement when she’s introduced to the other members of the team, including Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), the second-in-command who’s also married to The Strobe; Weevil (Rob Lowe), the most popular member of the group; Amok (Jamie Kennedy), who was, at one time, a supervillain; Minuteman (pronounced “My-newt man” and played by writer James Gunn), The Strobe’s brother, who has the ability to shrink his body at will; Deadly Girl (Judy Greer), who can summon demons from hell to do her bidding; the friendly but somewhat dim strongman, U.S. Bill (Mike Schwartz); the inappropriately-named Mr. Smart (Jim Zulevik); and the overly-kind Power Chick (Kelly Coffield). Rounding out the group is Alien Orphan (Sean Gunn), an actual alien who gets into all sorts of trouble, and “Eight”, a single consciousness spread across eight different bodies (played by John Doe, Abdul Salaam El-Razzac, Lauren Cohen, Tom Dorfmiester, Chuti Tiu, Johann Stauf, Brian Gunn, and Samantha Cannon).
Along with the arrival of Nightbird, The Specials are being honored later that night with their own line of action figures. But all is not well at Specials HQ. For one, The Strobe and Ms. Indestructible haven’t been getting along, causing Ms. Indestructible to seek comfort in the arms of The Weevil, with whom she’s having an affair. Adding to the team’s woes is an overall drop in morale, which has brought petty jealousies to the surface, sparking a lot of in-fighting. Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that The Strobe (who’s being courted by a million-dollar plastics company in need of his laser abilities) announces at the unveiling of their action figures that he’s disbanding the team. Is this really the end of The Specials, or can they overcome their differences to once again be a force of good?
At times a pseudo-mockumentary (in some scenes, the characters address the camera as if they’re being interviewed), The Specials is unlike most superhero movies in that it puts the focus not on action-packed thrills, but the characters themselves, who, thanks to the work of its superior cast, manage to keep things flowing smoothly. Thomas Hayden-Church is near flawless as The Strobe, a self-centered buffoon who, despite his arrogance, wins us over with his sincerity (we can’t help but feel sorry for him when everything goes south), and Jamie Kennedy makes for a convincing “bad boy” (during the morning meeting, The Strobe chastises Amok and Weevil for allowing themselves to be photographed in a public toilet smoking cigarettes, thus setting a poor example for the youth of America). As for the heroes that make up The Specials, each one is interesting in their own right, yet my favorite is Demon Girl. The ability to summon demons from hell? Seriously… how cool is that? Of course, wielding such power over the minions of the underworld does have its disadvantages (at one point, Demon Girl relates the story of how she got drunk at a bar mitzvah and inadvertently called a demon, which proceeded to “eat a kid”).
A Superhero movie that never takes itself seriously, The Specials isn’t the sort of comedy that’ll make you laugh out loud, but it will definitely keep you smiling,