From the Archive – The Specials (2000)

Specials

“Not as good as regular superheroes, but slightly better than you.”

Directed by Craig Mazin
Starring Rob Lowe, Thomas Hayden Church and Jamie Kennedy

The Specials are the sixth or seventh greatest superteam on the planet. They have just landed a new team member, Nightbird (Jordan Ladd), and been honoured with a set of action figures. At the launch party for the figures, the team’s mind-numbingly earnest leader, The Great Strobe (Hayden Church), discovers his wife, Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), is having an affair with their long-time friend and coworker, the Weevil (Lowe), and the toys are revealed to be muscle-bound – and in some cases big-breasted – caricatures armed with deadly weapons, with two team members transformed into villains and one made black to make the team more multiracial.

Strobe announces the break-up of the team, and the other members mope about for the evening. In the morning, they defiantly assemble at their suburban HQ – all save the Weevil, who sells out and joins top-flight superteam, The Crusaders – and the fight against injustice goes on.

And that’s about it really. There’s no overall plot, and no resolution. The whole thing is tied together with documentary-style interview segments with the various specials.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s a superhero film with no plot; like a middle-period Woody Allen film with dodgy costumes. The team is twelve strong – and one of the team members, Eight, is one person with eight bodies, so the screen time given to each is somewhat limited. While the film contains many good ideas, they are a little lost without a real plot framework, and however many scenes work very well, the film does not really go anywhere or do anything. The Specials came out the year after Mystery Men and the latter is by far the slicker, tighter film.

What’s right with it?

If you get over the fact that there isn’t really a plot, then the film contains some very good ideas. The notion of a world full of competing superteams; the top team being a pack of self-righteous media whores; superheroes dealing with everyday problems and the trials of being minor celebrities (they get asked for autographs, but Minute Man – who can become tiny at will – is constantly having his named pronounced ‘Min-it’ instead of ‘My-newt’). While the whole does not always satisfy, there are a number of good scenes, and some very funny lines.

How bad is it really?

By the standards of the BMM this is a classic in the mould of Casablanca. Back in the world, it’s pretty silly, but far from appalling.

Best bit?

The film doesn’t really have any set pieces, but it has some very good lines. For example: Minute Man (James Gunn) asks Deadly Girl (Judy Greer) what it’s like to summon demons, this being one of her powers. She replies: “They do your will and it makes you feel good about yourself. Does that make me creepy?”

What’s up with…?

  • A superhero film without a plot or an action scene? Deadly Girl pops Ms Indestructible when the team find out she cheated on Strobe and at the end of the film each team member does their power once, but it’s not really what you expect.
  • Well…That’s about it really. Once you get past that central conceit, the rest of the film pretty much gels.

Ratings

Production Values – Cheap, but not tacky. The costumes are mostly lame, but then they are kind of supposed to be. The superpowers at the end are a little naff, and you can see why they did not feature more, but on the other hand, recognising that limitation scores points. 8

Dialogue and performances – Variable. The script is fairly good, and often very funny, and the performances are mostly solid and unpretentious. Thomas Hayden Church is either the second coming of Bill Shatner, or puts in a splendid showing (further viewing of his oeuvre supports the conclusion that he is good). 7

Plot and execution – The Specials loses major points on plot, since it really, really doesn’t have one. That being said, the execution of the not-plot is fairly strong. 12

Randomness – Again, aside from the overall randomness of making this movie in the first place, The Specials is pretty straightforward. 5

Waste of Potential – Would this film have worked if it had an actual plot? Could we have stayed interested if we’d seen any more of their crime fighting exploits than Ms Indestructible lamping a pterodactyl in the face? Difficult to be sure, but with what it is, the film odes pretty well. 7

Overall 39%

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