We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is one of life's losers. When his wife leaves him and starts hanging about with a drug dealer, he decides to transform himself into The Crimson Bolt and fight crime
Black comedies walk a knife-like edge where it comes to tone. It's a given that they're not to everybody's taste, but even for fans of black comedy, some work while some leave a sour taste. Unfortunately, Super, which starts well with an animated credits sequence calling to mind a version of Ren & Stimpy animated by twee indie kids, falls into the second camp.
The "loser hero" is a difficult thing to get right - either he's so obviously heroic, it's hard to see that he was ever considered a loser, or, despite his heroic acts he still comes off as an ass. Rainn Wilson's Frank D'Arbo is so odd, so deranged, and so fundamentally dislikable, that he's almost more creepy villain than person we can root for.
This may be the film's point - where do superheroics become vigilantism, and where does vigilantism become a mentally ill guy with a wrench graphically braining basically innocent people who piss him off? But we should probably still find the hero/vigilante/mentally ill dude with a wrench a hoot to hang out with, and Frank actually makes your skin crawl. It should be said this is in no way Rainn Wilson's fault - as in the US Office, you almost like the character more than you should because he's a naturally funny guy, and he does get some laughs out of the material.
It'd be a spoiler to say too much about what happens to Ellen Page's character, but she's dealt the bummest hand of any actor here, with the possible exception of Liv Tyler as a drugged up damsel-in-distressing-crack-den. Page is hilarious playing deadpan Juno types, but she can't really make wacky and dark play, at least not here. The character is shrill and the point at which she inevitably sleeps with Frank is probably more of a gross out moment than any of the graphic violence, for all that it's not explicit.
It's not that this type of movie shouldn't be made - this type of movie could be brilliant - but it plays like every first draft idea anyone had found its way to the screen because it made someone laugh over a few drinks. Stepping back from the material might have helped. Props as ever, though, to Nathan Fillion (Serenity, Super director James Gunn's own Slither) for being the best thing here as a superheroic Jesus in a downmarket Christian cable show. I want to watch the movie about that guy. That guy seems cool.
In a nutshell: Some really interesting ideas and the odd flash of awesomeness, but overall a big old misfire with some ill-judged nastiness.
By Catherine Bray
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