cast: Michael Rapaport, Jack Kehler, Josh Peck, Robert Baker, and Paul Blackthorne

writers and directors: Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore

78 minutes (15) 2006 widescreen ratio 16:9
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail
[released 5 March]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont

Written and directed by two relatively inexperienced directors, Special is the story of Les (Michael Rapaport) a traffic warden and comics fan who signs up on a whim to be part of a clinical trial for a drug aimed at suppressing feelings of self-doubt. Before long, Les becomes convinced that he can fly. Reporting to the doctor overseeing his trial he also starts hearing voices, feeding his psychosis and convincing him that not only is the drug unleashing real powers but that Les is in danger. Donning a costume and vowing to fight crime, Les takes to the streets and is soon wanted by the police for randomly attacking innocent members of the public. As Les is happily running around with the drug company’s logo on his back, the owners of the company start to fear the adverse publicity and try to track Les down and convince him to stop taking the drugs and not sue the company for provoking his psychotic break, but Les refuses to give up, even when he eventually realises that the drugs were affecting his mind.

From nearly the opening frame, it is easy to identify the type of film that Special is trying to be. From Les’ bittersweet monologues as a man stuck in a rut and the endless shots of Les doing very boring things in the middle distance, it’s clear that Special sees itself as an investigation of a mid-life angst much like Sofia Coppola’s overrated Lost In Translation, and Gore Verbinski’s conceptually barren The Weather Man. However, lacking any real angst, this seems a strange choice, as the film is not so much about how meaningless Les’ life is, it is more about how eventful his life suddenly becomes. Indeed, the film works best as a vaguely comic exploration of the sheer craftiness and guile of a psychosis, an element that was also nicely present in A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard’s otherwise dull biopic of schizophrenic mathematician John Nash.

The first half of the film works splendidly with Rapaport producing an even and engaging portrait of Les (or ‘less’ as the Americans keep pronouncing it), a dull little man who means well but is having a rather hard time of things. Perhaps most famous for his appearance in Friends, Rapaport has, in recent times, drifted away from the kind of dramatic/ comic film roles that he did well with in films such as True Romance (1993) and towards either sitcoms, straight dramas or video-games. However, his slightly stilted delivery and tendency to over pronounce random words makes him better suited to the kind of off-kilter parts that he does well with in this film. Always engaging, always likeable and perfectly pulling off silly slapstick in an incredibly earnest and serious way, Rapaport was perfectly cast and this is unarguably his film.

Unfortunately, the second half of the film is a little bit more problematic as Les falls into contact with the Exiler brothers. Aside from lacking any real direction or shape to it (given that the first half introduces us to Les and his problem), the second half boils down to a series of confrontations between Les and Jonas Exiler. Exiler is played here by Paul Blackthorne who was cast as the lead in the short-lived TV adaptation of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Frankly, Blackthorne is nothing short of terrible playing a by-the-numbers ruthless bastard without an ounce of charm or intelligence. The part is clearly under-written, as is the second part of the movie as a whole, but Blackthorne brings nothing to the part whatsoever.

The lack of a proper second half suggests that the writer-directors never got that much further than wanting to make a film about a guy who loses his self-doubt and becomes convinced he’s a superhero. Once the character of Les is established they struggle with what to do with him, eventually under-cooking the moment where Les’ powers wear off and then trying to stick some bland homily about self-belief on at the end without any context or explanation of how the character got there. This is a real disappointment as it means that the film wastes the considerable head of steam it builds up in the first half and, essentially, fizzles out with the final credits. Definitely worth renting, but perhaps not buying.

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