Wednesday, April 3, 2013

DVD REVIEW: SPECIAL (RX) Specioprin Hydrochloride

Plain-John borderline-ginger Les volunteers to trial a new psychiatric drug designed to effectively remove self-doubt from the patient. The first night of his course he levitates from his chair. In that moment his job as a parking inspector, the tv dinner he's slugging through, the goofs at the comic book shop and all the wheedling parking violators he's ever encountered pale into the grey. He's special.

He goes back to the doctor running the trial with the news and demonstrates his anti-gravity powers. The doctor says it's a psychotic reaction to the drug and orders him off it. That's with his voice but telepathically he assures Les that the powers will only develop with continued use of the drug (called Special) and become permanent at the end of the course.

He quits his job under protest by his boss and demonstrates his powers to the stoners at the comic book shop. He foils a stickup at a 7/11. And then he fashions his costume and heads out to stop bad guys. Two men in a black car are following him. There's no turning back now...

I love stories that present a double perception. The challenge of convincingly presenting two realities concurrently without needing to declare either as the winner seems tougher than the time travel paradox. Cervantes provided one of the milestones of this in Don Quixote which does present the reality of the observers as the primary one with the observers' view providing the measure of the Don's delusions but this is with a mounting admiration of his humanity, illusions and all. More recently They Might Be Giants and, very cleverly, Donnie Darko (original cut: the revised one ruins it by declaring one as primary from the get go) have attempted similar with great success. These are exceptions, though, mostly the dichotomy is unified as the audience is handed the reality goggles the rest is comedy.

Special is comedy but also holds its sobering nobility talisman close. Where I am parking inspectors are called grey ghosts but where Les is they are called meter maids. In the American accent Les is prounounced "less". He's not even Everyman he's an untouchable. As soon as we notice he's levitating (which is before he does) we can't resist wishing it true. Whenever he demonstrates his new powers to others we see what's really happening but on some occasions we are left to guess as Les's joy and pride in what he can now achieve is so infectious. Also, the witnesses vary from stone cold sober to cold stoned and their perception varies.

The fact that we always first see Les's version of everything offers counterpoint before it's expected. We don't always see the reality partly because we assume it comfortably. What we always see, however, is a series of effects shots that are far better than we have been led to expect by the almost self-consiously indy grainy film stock look and raw editing. And then comes the scene where Les wills invisibility upon himself but something else happens with violent results. If we were comfortable before with were we sat in relation to the film's declared reality, we are now at a loss.

Add to this a series of subverted cliches in scenes like meeting-the-bad-guys or meeting-the-girl plus a gently melancholy score that could have come from an early Hal Hartley film and you have something that stands in relation to superhero films with a similar relation to the way Primer stands against time travel films: of the genre and alien from it. To the tiny list of these I'd also add M. Night Shamylan's neglected but best outing Unbreakable as a graver take on the theme.

The finale could be Les's delusion at the point of no return, his genuine rise to real strength or just his break into courage without the chemical assistance. That this is undeclared renders Special special. No,  

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