A new reality TV show following the daily lives of superheroes in Los Angeles sees an unlikely band of supernatural crime fighters thrown together. The early scenes in Real Heroes are a satisfying satire on the American Idol/X-Factor-style of auditions, with a supercilious Simon Cowell-type producer (played by Stu Hammill) seeing everyone from outright frauds to the wilfully self-deluded turning up to show off their skills. A unique way of removing unwanted auditionees (involving a martial art and a large stick) gave us one of the biggest laughs of the movie.
Amongst the heroes is Malibu Action Girl (played by the feisty Keila Hamilton), whose father is rich enough to buy her superpowers, and there are running jokes about the merchandise tie-in and her own action jingle which plays whenever her name is mentioned. There’s also Big Shot (Hunter Smit), a neurotic archer; Sable (Melissa Jobe), an, um, older female hero who still hasn’t lost it and has the cat-suit to prove it; Water Warrior (Lars Slind) the pretty but dim boy who claims to communicate with fish… and Psychic Sam (Matt Palazzolo) whose unerring accuracy in predicting the future is made fun of here.
Of course, once the selected superheroes arrive in their Big Brother-type house (for the most part Real Heroes acts as a clever spoof of the manipulative nature of reality TV) the producer finds that the heroes are spending far too long having fun and trying to claim their fifteen minutes of fame rather than tackling supervillains. So in order to spice things up a little…
Great voiceover work from Ezra Buzzington, making the most of Keith Hartman’s script that has been inspired by hours of absorbing comic books, proves a funny way of linking scenes together, and excellent illustrations, evocative of Marvel Comics, provide visual clues to the blockbuster moments the budget won’t stretch to (take a bow Tone Rodriguez, Christian Meesey and Jamie Kinosian). It’s all part of the way in which Real Heroes acknowledges and embraces its own ridiculousness, though one can’t help but wish a more lavish budget might have realised the juiciest moments of the script that are held back from viewers; and the constant inserts of the various cast members addressing the camera come to feel intrusive, especially when the pace ramps up in the second half. The difference in tone and scope of reality TV versus a movie is a difficulty that isn’t entirely overcome.
A standout performance is from Matt Palazzolo, who is deliciously dry as Psychic Sam, a man resigned to the double-edged blessing/curse of second sight. His blossoming romance with badass Titania (Verona Blue) is one of our favourite subplots. However, given the ironic nature of Real Heroes, the tone of some of the performances jars: they are too large, where underplaying would have benefited the authenticity of the absurdity and the attempt to capture reality TV.
The script is at its best with witty dialogue and interplay between characters, which makes up for some structural issues where it’s not clear how the story is moving forwards. This issue is overcome by the injection of peril: once they are finally unleashed upon the heroes, the supervillains make for as colourful a group as the goodies, and if anything, we would have liked to have seen more of the nemeses and their fiendish plot. The Butcher (Tom Patrick) is the stuff of nightmares, whereas Guy Klender’s Necro Nazi proves the most memorable. What’s not to love about an undead Nazi carrying around Hitler’s pickled brain? Plus the baddies get all the best costumes.
With a suitably devilish plan unleashed, Real Heroes moves at a cracking pace towards a satisfying showdown. It’s daft and it’s fun, but it also says something about our celebrity culture and the banality and contrivance of reality TV. Real Heroes will tickle the funny bone of anyone who likes a bit of unashamedly absurd humour, especially if they don’t take their comic books too seriously.