Les (Michael Rapaport) is looking for a way out of his mundane existence. He works as a meter maid, hated and derided by countless people every day of his life. He has no family, his only two friends are comic book dorks, and he’s too lame to even ask out the checkout girl at the local supermarket. Leo hears about an experimental antidepressant called Special that’s currently in testing and goes to apply. He cheats on his test (not that they really care) and starts taking his pills right there.
Soon after, everything starts to change. Suddenly uninhibited he starts to realize that he’s not so normal after all- he’s actually gained super powers! He can fly and even read people’s thoughts. His friends, however, instead of seeing someone walk through walls see a guy running headfirst into a wall… and it’s only when Les starts fighting crime (that may or may not be in his head) that people start getting concerned for his well-being.
Comic book fans will definitely get more out of this film than others. It’s cleverly set up exactly as a superhero origin story, and has all the usual beats. You’ll know what I’m talking about- the story pretty much runs down the list of them. A loser dreams of being something more, gains incredible powers, spends time learning to use them, gets an arch enemy, becomes afraid of what can happen to him or his family/friends, decides to finally pick up the mantle. It’s nothing we haven’t seen or read before countless times but it’s much more interesting when you look at it through the view of someone that’s losing their mind and no longer has a grip on reality.
Getting Michael Rapaport for the role was a stroke of genius, because he’s always been good at playing good-intentioned characters that are a bit slow-witted. That’s not a slam, I love the guy, and he really is perfect in this role as a guy who was already losing his mind before things really started to pick up. He adds both humor and humanity to the character, and if it weren’t for him the film wouldn’t work one bit.
But the film’s got big issues with it. For one thing, it’s maddeningly slow at points, seeming to almost stand still and try to show off how clever it really is, like a student film. While it does a great job of showing what it’s like to be on drugs (and deal with someone on them) there are scenes at the beginning and end that are way too introspective and drag the film down. This makes its short 85 minute running time feel like much, much longer. The music is equally lethargic, which doesn’t help things. There’s also a little too much reliance on the twisting of reality for jokes. It’s funny watching Les “fly” the first time and then see it from someone else’s eyes, but later on when the joke keeps repeating itself it loses its charm.
But when it’s funny, it’s really funny.
There are more than a couple of scenes that shows hints of genius, such as when he has a telepathic conversation with his doctor (the clip of which is online here), and they almost all rely on Rapaport to sell it. There’s also an incredible scene where there’s a huge tonal shift from comedy to drama as his friends start to realize that their buddy really is losing his mind. Suddently you realize how much trouble this guy really is in, start to look at him as less of a clown and more of a human being. It’s a shift in gears that makes things interesting, but the film seems scared to do it too frequently.
That’s what the film feels more than anything- uncertain. The concept is clever and it’s entertaining enough but it unfortunately isn’t taken far enough to make for a truly good film.
Special hits theaters this Friday November 21st in NYC, with more in the weeks to come. It’s also available on HDNet right now! This is the second of Magnet’s 6-Shooter Films series.