America, get ready for your next cult superhero: Spaghettiman, a mask-wearing vigilante who stalks the streets at night, protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. Well, “mask-wearing” insofar as it’s a brown paper grocery bag with two janky eyeholes cut out of it. And “vigilante” may be too big a word for someone so narcissistic and self-deluded. “Protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty”? Not really, unless you count “protection followed by near-forced extortion” as such.
Director and co-writer Mark Potts and writers/actors Ben Crutcher, Winston Carter, Brand Rackley, and Jo LoCicero have pieced together Spaghettiman, the legend of the ultimate millennial superhero, one who expects to be handed everything without doing much to earn it. Think Deadpool meets The Big Lebowski; it’s as much a statement on the YouTube generation as it is an outrageous, microbudget riff on the constant deluge of comic-book adaptations currently overpopulating American cinemas.
Even though neither the Marvel Studios or DC Comics logos are attached, it’s easy to see the love and care Potts and company have for their film. Sure, there are ham-handed performances and a lack of sly nuance (characteristic of low- to no-budget films), but that’s part of what makes Spaghettiman so weirdly charming and engaging. There are no idealistic crusaders searching for Truth, Justice, and the American Way; Spaghettiman is full of regular Joes or schmucks who’ve suddenly been brought to life by the appearance of someone trying to make a difference, but not for any altruistic reasons.
We’re introduced to Clark (Crutcher), an absolute zero with no social skills who can’t hold down a job without annoying the customers or his superiors with his lazy egotism. The opening scenes show us his blatant (and even that is too nice of a word) lack of disregard for others, as he eats pizza he’s supposed to be delivering or taking advantage of his roommate Dale’s (Carter) generosity with the rent. Clark (I’m guessing his last name is “Kant,” as the copyright credits at the end of the film infer) lives in Clark World, where everything revolves around and must cater to him; he’s the kind of guy who, if he was an apartment building manager, would charge not just rent and utilities, but grounds fees and taxes on the air his tenants breathe, all while sitting on his no-good ass.
Remember that age-old idiom “you are what you eat”? Coming home after a disastrous interview at a call center, he warms up a bowl of his leftover spaghetti lunch (bought by Dale), giving no notice as to how badly the microwave is malfunctioning – hissing, sparking, the timer going completely bonkers – before he consumes a mouthful and falls violently ill. The consequence? He finds out while standing in front of his toilet in a scene which is better seen than described.
Getting over the initial shock of being able to throw spaghetti from his hands (and other things, I guess) with enough force to knock someone unconscious, he attempts to parlay it into being a hero-for-hire of sorts. He either answers Craigslist ads and accepts only the higher-paying requests, or he happens upon crimes in progress and saves the day, only to take literal advantage of the grateful “How can I repay you?” and “I owe you” platitudes that come out of victims’ mouths. Clark is pretty despicable, and Crutcher plays him with a deft balance between parody and straightforwardness, delivering his scatterbrained lines with the perfect amount of smartass and cluelessness. Endeavoring to increase his dubious income, he involves videographer Anthony Banner (Rackley), a guy who’s been selling footage of Spaghettiman’s exploits to news stations and demands a cut of Banner’s profits.
With every good superhero must come his nemesis, right? The fun part about this is the villain’s origin, which comes from the film’s only benevolent source: Dale. Seeing Clark trotting around as Spaghettiman and basically extorting money from the people he saves has pushed his public servant heart and mind right over the cliff, eventually making him become Shadow Man, a guy dressed in a black Army GI sweater who hires muscled tough Keto (LoCicero) and his goons. The purpose: make Spaghettiman step outside himself and do good for humanity without a price. So he’s not a villain, per se – he’s just a guy who talks out loud to himself (think of Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin from 2002’s Spider-Man) about bettering Spaghettiman, not killing him.
Spaghettiman is one of those movies where you have to admire its effort and whimsy, all while making do without big-budget effects and star power. A long time ago, I worked a few weeks on a microbudget movie called Dodge Jackson (which halted production midway through), the director of which helmed a film called Lethal Force (trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8Id_UPUnzI). There are a lot of similarities between Lethal Force, Dodge Jackson, and Spaghettiman which make me appreciate the no-budget style with which Potts and crew have tackled their film. You make the most out of every location and shoot it so it appears larger than life, no matter how small the hallway or living rooms might be; your weapons have to be found objects or way cheap (at one point, Spaghettiman grows whip-like strands of spaghetti out of his hoodie sleeves); and you’ve gotta have at least one friend/acquaintance you can hire who knows martial arts and looks good with his shirt off. Potts hits every one of these microbudget staples (and more), giving Spaghettiman a DIY charm which makes you keep watching to see what hammy comic book cliché he and his crew can parodize next.
But there’s an oddly funny, sneaky heart in Spaghettiman, mostly due to the evolution of Clark and his alter ego. He knows the difference between right and wrong; it’s just a case of him getting paid enough. But as his legend grows, so does his compassion, but only just; his “me-first” philosophy drives the comedy of the film and is a reliable touchstone for his antics. The entire crew of Spaghettiman may rest assured it will be a hit on the microbudget and independent circuit; it may not have the oomph of its larger-budgeted brethren, but it’s definitely got soul and more than enough absurdity to endear itself to those looking for an out-there time.