A film that’s simply not very good speaks for itself, but a film that carries with it the promise of something worthwhile and yet fails to deliver is a disappointment unto itself. I considered this during Jon Drever’s “Superbob”, a film which has the trajectory of a missile; it starts out impressive, before very quickly crashing disastrously. A better film deserves to be made from this material.
Bob (Brett Goldstein) is a normal guy, until one day he’s hit by a meteorite in a park in Peckham; then, he remains a normal guy, but he also is invincible to bullets, and can fly. As one character observes, “it’s amazing what you can get used to”; Bob’s tendency to be a little bit of a “dullard2 remains intact. The film starts out as a faux-documentary, exploring his character and providing the audience the chance to get to know him. He’s a little reminiscent of Neil from the Inbetweeners; affable, well-meaning, and a little bit slow. He’s the perfect foil for this kind of superhero parody, which is long overdue.
As we get to know Bob, the film provides a remarkably adept satire of the superhero genre. Bob doesn’t go by the moniker of hero, but instead works as a “civil servant” for the Ministry of Defence, under his overbearing boss Theresa (Catherine Tate). Whenever he rescues someone, he makes them fill out their own forms. He must have Tuesdays off, or he is violating his contract. The bureaucracy runs so deep, it results in the following absurdist exchange;
“Oh, that’s Barry, he’s security.”
“That seems… Unnecessary?”
“Oh… Yeah. It’s a union thing.”
When the film is like this, it works very well indeed. Unfortunately it doesn’t stick like this for long, and as “Superbob” goes on it feels progressively more lost at see, and with no caped crusader around to save it, it drowns. The central plot involves Bob trying to get to a date with a local librarian, “the most beautiful woman in Peckham”, but midway through it changes tack to accommodate a ham-fisted subplot involving distrustful Americans that is frankly forced and unfunny, an attempt at satire that backfires (an American senator labels Bob a “WMD” and won’t stop talking about how he refused to shake his hand).
Then the film changes tack once more to focus on Bob’s relationship with his mother in a care home, and then forces in another subplot involving a romance with his cleaner Dorris (Natalie Tena). By the time the film actually catches up to with the initial plot strand of the date, it feels like a subterfuge. At some point along the way the faux-documentary style is dropped. It invests too much in a romantic climax that Drever wants us to care about far more than than we reasonably will. And on top of this it tries to have a big emotional/action set-piece. It’s too much clutter.
It’s a real shame, because with a tighter focus this film could have been one of the all-time great cult classics. It wears its low budget credentials with pride, as it should, and it’s a remarkably professional work for something shot on a minuscule budget (just a million). As it is it feels sloppy and somewhere between over-produced and under-constructed. Drever clearly had a vision, it just fails to show here.
But it retains the distinction of being a decidedly bad film where everyone comes through with their dignity intact; especially Goldstein, who does a superb job as lead, and juggles the script’s many one-liners with aplomb (in all fairness, he did write them, alongside Drever and co-writer William Bridges).