Comic Book Villains (2002) — Anyone who likes this movie is wrong

“Either you’re trying to patronize me, mess with me, or get yourself killed. And, by the way, you’re doing a pretty good job.”

Drew’s rating: In which a valuable lesson is learned: Don’t buy preowned movies for $2 from the grocery store. Just don’t. It’s never a good idea.

Drew’s review: Going into this film, I’d heard it described two conflicting ways. Some comic fans called it one of the best comic-related movies ever made, while other fans and the rest of the world seemed to consider it a hot, steaming pile of excrement. And yet, I’m a comic fan… would I identify with it enough to excuse its faults? Well, I’ve now seen Comic Book Villains, and thus can honestly say, without reservation: it’s the poop one. And while everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, anyone who likes this movie is wrong. Sorry, but it’s true.

Plot-wise, things aren’t too complex. In a small town, the proprietors of two competing comic shops learn that a fellow fanboy has passed on and left behind an unbelievable, pristine collection. With both stores eager to get their hands on it, Ray (Donal Logue) enlists the help of patron Archie (DJ Qualls), while Norman (Michael Rapaport) and Lady Macbeth — I’m sorry, I mean wife Judy (Natasha Lyonne) — discover a slight problem: The dead fanboy’s mother doesn’t want to sell. Cue increasingly mean-spirited and eventually deadly antics, as each group schemes to lay hands on the collection through any means necessary. And if that strikes you as a great setup for a humorous caper film or a black comedy, you’re absolutely right — it is. So how the hell’d they screw it up so badly?

Well, for starters, the characters don’t undergo any sort of gradual shift from normal, likable people to greed-obsessed lowlifes… they just instantly change from one to the other between scenes somewhere. Nor does the plot build to any kind of crescendo; you just sort of come to and realize the “climax” is upon you, and then it’s over. Hell, I couldn’t even pretend it was really good for me so as not to hurt the movie’s feelings. And the main actors, with the possible exception of Qualls, are simply terrible. I’d say maybe they just suck, except I’ve seen most of them do better in other roles; I guess they all knew it was basically straight-to-video and just phoned it in, but come on, guys — put a little effort into it.

Good points, good points… uh, well, I know this will come out wrong, but they did a nice job of getting people who are a little, er, odd-looking to play the comic geeks in this movie. Yep, those are pretty much the guys from my local shop, all right. Also, DJ Qualls is fairly believable in his role, and actually speaks his dialogue in a way that doesn’t make you think he’s reading it from an off-camera cue card. Which is nice. And Ray and Archie’s disdain for stores that offer trading cards and other non-comic items mirrors that of many real-life fans… though, as most fans also realize, failure to attract youngsters is what’s ultimately killing the industry.

Other than those few things, though… geez, this film is just a dog. It hurts me to say that, because director James Robinson is actually quite a talented comics writer; but between this and the screenplay for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, man, he really needs to just stick with the funny books. A promising setup and reasonably engaging characters degenerate into unlikable, unbelievable cretins and nonsensical plot points before you know it, and the film never decides whether it wants to be a dark comedy or a serious thriller, with the consequence being that it’s successful as neither. When all’s said and done, consider this movie your kryptonite — avoid at all costs.

Didja Notice?

  • The opening sequence: geek questions are asked, and with mounting shame I realize I know all the answers.
  • Nothing says “I’m a sad, pathetic loser with no life” quite like arguing about what fictional female character is more sexually attractive, ya know?
  • Also, the Silver Age Black Canary is TOTALLY hotter.
  • A broken counter mentioned early on with the phrase “I’ll get around to fixing it later”? Gosh, I wonder if THAT will be incredibly pivotal to the plot later…
  • What the hell kind of small town can support TWO comic shops and a strip club?
  • Raymond smokes a pipe? Are we supposed to think he’s a pothead, or just an even bigger dork than most comic fans?
  • Um… Archie, the point of tucking the gun into your waistband is so you can pull your shirt down OVER it, not under.
  • Drinking a Slurpee in a strip club? Dude, you’ve got to at least get a beer.
  • Okay, creativity points for the best use of a nail gun since Happy Gilmore.
  • No offense to Monet Mazur, but someone tell me why her character was remotely necessary? All she did was allow for strip club scenes and make Ray seem like an even bigger creep late in the movie.

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