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the return of captain invincible

review by rob gonsalves

director
Philippe Mora

screenwriter
Andrew Gaty
Steven E. de Souza

producer
Andrew Gaty

cinematographer
Mike Molloy

music
William Motzing
Richard O'Brien

editor
John Scott


cast

Alan Arkin (Captain Invincible)
Christopher Lee
(Mr. Midnight)
Kate Fitzpatrick
(Patty Patria)
Bill Hunter
(Tupper/Coach)
Graham Kennedy
(Prime Minister)
Michael Pate
(President)


mpaa rating: PG
running time: 101m
u.s. release: 1983, sometime
video availability: VHS - DVD


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A crashing failure of a self-willed cult film, for rabid fans of Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, or Rocky Horror only.

Eh? Rocky Horror? What's that got to do with this?

We'll get to that.

So dig in, man.

If your curiosity leads you to rent this because it's got Arkin as the drunken, disgraced superhero Captain Invincible and Lee as his arch-nemesis Mr. Midnight, you'd better be sure your fast-forward button (or skip-search if you rent the DVD) is working. It's entirely unfunny, with intentionally campy dialogue that falls flat and songs to match. Oh, did I mention it's a musical?

Not until just now, no.

There are about ten songs, each worse than the last. Three of them -- sorry, I'm not sure which, though the entertainingly pervo "Name Your Poison" is probably one of them -- have Richard O'Brien's name on them. O'Brien, I clarify only for those not in the know, was the lyricist behind such Rocky Horror perennials as "Time Warp," et cult-classic cetera. (And, yes, the playwright/screenwriter behind the whole shebang.) But please, if you respect O'Brien, do not sully said respect by renting this merely because of his glancing participation. Fully half of the songs are seemingly about how America was great once, when Captain Invincible was in his prime (in the '40s), and can be great again. There's one 30-second song early on, composed entirely of the word "bullshit," that will make you blink blankly at the screen and realize it's going to be a long hour and forty-one minutes.

"America can be great again"? Might this actually be re-animated as a post-9/11 gung-ho semi-cult comedy?

Possibly, though it is to shudder at the possibility. Blatheringly patriotic and nostalgic as it is -- not to mention passive-aggressively reactionary (does this movie long for the days when men were men, women were servile, and Negroes knew their place?) -- this feels like a 1976 movie that stayed on the shelf for seven years.

So what passes for the plot?

Captain Invincible is lured out of retirement by Australian cop Kate Fitzpatrick when the U.S. government's HypnoRay is stolen. It's the work of Mr. Midnight, of course -- his nefarious plot is to sucker a lot of "racially impure" New Yorkers into buying shoreside cottages and then send the whole community off into the ocean. Cute.

Is Arkin at least fun to watch in this?

You'd think so -- his presence usually guarantees some off-center mirth -- but the idea of him as a caped superhero is funnier than anything he actually does with it. Arkin is okay in his early embittered scenes (and has some good parodic moments in the film's opening newsreel footage -- probably the movie's highlight) but then falls back on mugging more often than not and seems bewildered by the movie's rampant stupidity.

How about the former Count Dracula and future Saruman/Count Dooku?

He looks dapper and evil, effortlessly outclassing his surroundings, but he just makes you wish he were in something better. He has a nice baritone when he does his big number "Name Your Poison," which is really not a bad bit on its own and should probably be filed onto a clip tape of Christopher Lee's Greatest Moments (it would earn inclusion solely by virtue of being a rare musical foray by the master, and for its kitsch value -- not remotely because it's a career highlight, or anything).

Final thoughts?

It all ends with a big speech from the Captain about how we Americans are "the toughest, bravest, kindest, bestest gang in the world." If you're going to torture yourself with this it might as well be as a double feature with the equally inane Captain America, which shares certain plot points with it (little boy is inspired by the hero back in the old days and grows up to be the President, etc.).




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