Ordinary Supermen

American Hero
(USA, 86 min.)
Written and directed by Nick Love
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Eddie Griffin
Stephen Dorff and Eddie Griffin in American Hero.
Search Engine Films

Superheroes don't seems all that interesting anymore after the colossal letdown of Batman v.Superman, so audiences might find a thrill in the adventures of ordinary supermen. American Hero tells the story of an average Joe named Melvin, played by Stephen Dorff, who rises to the challenge and does extraordinary things to better his community. It helps that Melvin, a deadbeat/lowlife/drug addict, has telekinetic powers and can do some of the snazzy tricks that caped crusaders may perform on the streets of Gotham or Metropolis. Transfer these skills to the streets of New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina and one finds a very different kind of justice.

American Hero plays with conventions of the comic book flick by making its crime fighter a petty thug. Masked marvels are often reluctant heroes and it takes an ample bit of coaxing for Melvin to use his skills to fight the hoodlums on the streets, rather use than to catch crooks in the act and steal their loot or finger a girl with grade-A creepy telekinesis. American Hero humorously implies that many of the audiences flocking to superhero movies would probably do the same if given the choice between hedonism and goodwill. Dorff is gruff and doggish in the part and as far from Ben Affleck’s suave Bruce Wayne as one can get.

The Robin to Melvin's Batman, similarly, is the paraplegic and androgynously named Lucille, played with lots of sass by Eddie Griffin. Lucille plays the narrator too, as American Hero employs a faint mockumentary style as director Nick Love chronicles Melvin's offbeat transformation from stoner to superhero.  The realist style of the film, which boasts a budget of less than $1 million, plays like a first for the world of heroes with supercool/superhuman powers as CGI floaty things show up only when Melvin stretches his telekinetic muscles. The baddies aren't pixelated monsters. They aren't giant video game beasts, otherworldly enemies, or Jesse Eisenberg. These villains are street thugs, drug dealers, and petty bugs that infest poverty-stricken disaster zones like N'awlins and prey on the vulnerable survivors. 

While American Hero misses in the comedy department more often than it hits, and some random moments in which the film breaks the fourth wall don’t do the film any favours, Love gives something fresh and new to the superhero world—a universe that looked dead in the water only weeks ago. As American Hero uses the plight of real world survivors, rather than a fantastical plot of world domination, to fuel the hero’s grasp of his powers, the film marks the absence of powers used to help ordinary people in a tragedy like Katrina. On the other hand, the mockumentary style of the film and Melvin’s underdog charm suggest that anyone can be a hero with the right heart. Batman and Superman aren’t the real superstars: the true heroes are everyday folks who stand up for what’s right.

American Hero is hits VOD and digital HD on April 15 from Search Engine Films.
It lands on DVD April 19.

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