Saturday, November 22, 2008

Movie Review: Special

"A very select group of people in life are truly gifted. Special is a movie about everyone else." This is the tag line to the independent film Special, starring the tragically underrated Michael Rapaport. Rapaport plays a timid meter maid named Les Franken, who enlists in a drug study for a new antidepressant called Specioprin Hydrochloride, or Special. The drug inadvertently gives Les hallucinations, causing him to believe he has superpowers, including telepathy, levitation, and the ability to walk through walls. He decides to become a superhero, using the logo for the drug as his emblem. Unfortunately, most of the "crimes" he stop were also hallucinated, and all he's doing is tackling innocent people on the street. Add to this that the drug company isn't happy about some loon roaming the streets attacking people while wearing their logo, and are determined to get rid of Les...even if it means killing him. Can Les's friends convince him that he's imagining things before he gets in serious trouble?

The Pros: Earlier this year, a little film you might have heard of, Hancock, purported the be the anti-superhero film. It claimed to present a hero that was everything a superhero wasn't, to break all the comic book rules and be something truly original. And it was...for about 45 minutes. But if you saw the film, you know that halfway through, the film took an unexpected nose dive into the standard cliche, becoming exactly what it said it wouldn't be. Special is, in my opinion, everything Hancock should have been. I'm not saying the story concept was any better than Hancock's, nor the casting, nor the effects. But Special had one thing Hancock didn't: Consistency. It takes a wholly original concept and sticks with it. It knew where it was going, where it would end up, and it never strayed from that path. If only I could've said the same about Hancock, it could have been one of the greatest superhero films ever made.

The tone of Special is hard to describe. At times it is depressing, and at times it is heartwarming. Ultimately this is a film about self-worth. It follows a wholly ordinary man, more identifiable than even Peter Parker ever was. He's an meek but likable person who feels, as I think most people do, that life is passing him by. He spends his free time reading comic books, and dreaming about how wonderful it would be to be able to do something important, something extraordinary. We instantly acclimate to Les, and his desire to be, well, special.

We've seen this setup before. We've seen Luke Skywalker on the boring Ranch, dreaming about adventures in space. We've seen Rocky Balboa duke it out in the slums, hoping to hit it big as a boxer. We've seen characters long for something better. And we all know what happens next. Something amazing happens that takes them on a fantastic journey where they ultimately get their wish. But not in this film. Here, our hero only thinks that it's happening. It's all an illusion. And that's not a twist, we're told that from the get go. And while it may be at times laughable to watch Les run into walls convinced he's running through them, we're also painfully aware of the last that Les's has merely the illusion of happiness.

But unlike Luke Skywalker, Rocky Balboa, or Peter Parker before him, Les is not a ordinary man who becomes extraordinary. Les is and extraordinary man who realizes that he is extraordinary. He realizes that he doesn't need to be a to fly faster than a speeding bullet, or leap tall buildings in a single bound. He may not have superpowers, but his experience brings out qualities in himself that he never knew he had: courage, determination, selflessness. Les is a caring, compassionate person, with friends who care. And that alone, makes him truly special.

That is the heart of Special. It may be an old lesson, but it's one we need to be reminded of every now and then. It's been pointed out that the old phrase "everyone's special" really means no one is. And the truly exceptional thing about this film is that is actually addresses that. In a way the whole film is about addressing that criticism. There's even a point near the end where you think that's the ultimate message of the film, that no one's special. But without spoiling anything, let me assure you, the film ends one an subtle but uplifting note. Without saying a word, this film quietly gets it's point across, in a way that's the complete opposite of preachy and in-your-face.

As I said before Michael Rapaport is a criminally overlooked talent in film and television, and he really is what makes this film work. He's so believable and real. He truly embodies his character, at times making this audience laugh and cry all at once. On a side note it's good too see Josh Peck in this, doing real work instead of that schlock known as Drake & Josh.

The Cons: The only real faults to be found in this movie were no fault of the filmmakers. As is too often with independent films, the budget here is limited, and it shows. While they are clever enough to keep it from being too painfully obvious, it still is noticeable. Though honestly, depending on you, that may not be a bad thing. There's a certain charm to small indie flicks, and Special certainly has that.

The End: This film deserves more attention, just as it's star does. It more than fills the void left by the failure of Hancock. Not only do I consider this one of the best films of the year, but I'm seriously considering giving it a spot on my top ten list. This is not a money-driven Hollywood blockbuster with all the trimmings, it's something more. It's a true film, a piece of art made by people who love their craft and make do with what they have. And they make it well.

Overall, I give Special a Gold Anarchy Coin.

Click here to visit the official website for Special.

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