The Specials (2000) — James Gunn’s early superhero effort

“We’re there for the oddball, the rebel, the outcast, the geek!”

Justin’s rating: My power — and it is completely awesome — is being able to sing so loudly and off key that any mammal with ears will flee my presence

Justin’s review: When I first heard about The Specials, it was in an Entertainment Weekly movie preview edition. If you’re familiar with the magazine, you know the ones. They come out quarterly, try to cover about 143 up-and-coming movies in 12 pages, and in doing so tend to only highlight the biggest and brightest while pushing the smaller ones, the geekier ones, and the indies to brief fragmented blurbs. Supposedly coming out around the same time as Mystery Men, The Specials was treated as a far-distant cousin of the superhero-satire genre, and was all but erased from existence.

What tugged at my leathery heart-strings was the self-description that The Specials supergroup gives themselves in the movie: this 6th or 7th greatest bunch of superheroes in the city deem themselves as being there for “the oddball, the rebel, the outcast, the geek.” In real life, the movie is the same; this film is a weird outcast not meant for most viewers who are looking for a big budget and flashy effects. It’s mostly for those who want something slightly unusual and flavored with Tang. So welcome to cultville, Specials!

Unlike Mystery Men or The Incredibles, The Specials don’t create comedy by parodying the action and dangerous situations most comic book heroes find themselves in. Instead, it does away with most on-screen examples of superheroism, focusing instead on the quirky daily life of a bunch of cranky, goofy people who just happen to have slightly better-than-average abilities. It’s almost not a film but a longer pilot episode of what would’ve been a funny TV series about the office antics of quibbling supers.

In retrospect, we shouldn’t be surprised the screenwriter James Gunn would understand the quirkier side of superheroes years before he tackled Guardians of the Galaxy.

On the day that Nightbird (the incredibly cute Jordan Ladd) is accepted into the Specials, the group is on the verge of both getting their first action figures and completely falling apart. Their group leader, the wooden and egotistical Strobe (Thomas Haden Church) is unknowingly driving his wife, Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), into the bed of sarcastic Weevil (Rob Lowe).

The other group members aren’t much better off. Mr. Smart (Jim Zulevic) is a pudgy genius who keeps putting weird contraptions on his head; Power Chick (Kelly Coffield) is a highly annoying cesspit of energy; Deadly Girl (Newsradio’s Judy Greer) is bitter about pretty much everything; Minute Man (Gunn) has a name that’s mispronounced; Amok (Jamie Kennedy) is a Nightcrawler-esque jerk; U.S. Bill (Mike Schwartz) is super-strong but an imbecile; and Alien Orphan (Sean Gunn) is just… out of place. Oh, and I can’t be remiss in mentioning the most unique superhero I’ve ever seen, Eight — an entity with one mind who shares eight separate bodies.

It’s a charming group of Marvel/DC rejects. I love ’em.

While crude at times (Amok contemplates going back to supervillainy by having sex with pets everywhere), The Specials revels in its own brand of deadpan humor revolving around what most people would really be like if they were granted superpowers. One thing I learned: you don’t want to get stretching powers. Most of those heroes die from cancer within a year.

Nothing much, other than Nightbird’s tour around the H.Q., the action figure party, and the eventual dissolution and reconciliation of the group, happens here. Again, it’s best to just get into the mindset of enjoying a well-done sitcom pilot that could’ve made The Tick proud. I personally had a blast, quick as it was, watching The Specials. If nothing else, rent it just to see the ridiculous action figure concepts that the toy company comes up with to market this gang.

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