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Originally published April 14, 2011 at 3:00 PM | Page modified April 14, 2011 at 3:09 PM

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Movie review

'Super': A silly, skull-splitting way to save the day

A movie review of "Super," starring Rainn Wilson as a nerdy burger-flipper who tries to become a comic-book legend.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 1.5 stars

'Super,' with Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler. Written and directed by James Gunn. 96 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains graphic violence and rough language). Varsity, Grand Cinema.

A sense of style can make up for a lot at the movies. But James Gunn's brutal new comedy-thriller, "Super," succeeds only in demonstrating that without it, you may not have much of anything.

In this sketchy, silly spinoff of Gunn's Troma Entertainment splatter films, a nerdy comic-book fan imagines himself the kind of superhero who hides his true identity under a flashy costume. Not too careful with the pipe wrench he uses to bash skulls, he rescues some people while sending others to the hospital.

Rainn Wilson plays this deluded creature, an incompetent burger-flipper, Frank D'Arbo, who falls apart when his wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), is seduced by a drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). With the encouragement of another comics addict, Libby (Ellen Page), he dons a Superman disguise and calls himself the Crimson Bolt.

"His love life is threatened by a villain," Wilson told The New York Times last month, "and there are 40 minutes of explosions as he rescues her from the villain."

As that all-too-accurate plot summary suggests, Frank is more destructive and pathetic than heroic. He nourishes only two happy memories: the day he married Sarah and the day he helped a policeman nail a crook.

When Libby guesses his identity, it looks like a third happy memory is about to be created, but then she turns out to be a handful. Could the two of them simply be making things worse?

That's an idea that holds some promise, and "Super" does begin well. Wilson and Page bring some variety to what could have been monotonous roles, and an episode about Frank's attack on a jerk who cuts in line at a theater is worthy of Woody Allen.

But when the punch line turns out to be an act of skull-splitting violence, the movie roars off the deep end.

John Hartl:

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