How much life is left in the superhero genre after a seemingly endless array of Hollywood comic book adaptations and action fare? The Australian import Griff the Invisible, opening in Atlanta Sept. 9, looks to break from the pack by placing its superhero in the midst of a quirky romantic comedy. Its selection for the 2010 Toronto Film Festival is promising; the fact that it features yet another everyday schlep trying his hand at the superhero lifestyle, not so much.
By day, you wouldn’t give Griff (Ryan Kwanten) a second look—unless you were doing a double-take at the sight of his blindingly bright yellow coat. He’s a nerdy, ultra-shy average joe working in a mundane job and frequently bullied by an obnoxious coworker. But by night, he dons a superhero suit, monitors the city streets on the surveillance cameras in his apartment, and metes out justice to any ne’er-do-wells foolish enough to attempt to perpetrate a crime nearby.
Admittedly, his superhero antics are a work in progress hampered by his disapproving brother (Patrick Brammall), uncooperative authorities and the challenges of building a cloak of invisibility. But his life gets its biggest jolt when his brother introduces him to his oddball romantic interest Melody (Maeve Dermody). Griff’s superhero aspirations find a kindred spirit in Melody, a gal with an interest in the unconventional and some unusual habits of her own. Romantic sparks fly and visions of saving the city soar, but reality’s harsh iron fist threatens to crush their dreams.
Most superhero movies focus on mythology and action, leaving little room for actors to stretch. But Griff the Invisible’s biggest strength is the performances of its leads, who boast terrific chemistry. Kwanten (Jason Stackhouse on TV’s True Blood) transitions strongly between Griff’s dueling personalities, and he’s downright scary—in a good way—in a scene in which he attempts to “go normal” on a dinner date. As for Dermody, she makes her character’s strange habits endearing and her attraction to weirdo Griff feasible.
Writer/director Leon Ford, making his feature debut, shows a strong flair for the visual in Griff the Invisible, crafting memorable images that mix comic book swagger, magic realism and an occasional flash of humor. He struggles more with the film’s tone, trying in vain to find the right balance between rom com and Comic Con. The script, which feels padded with subplots that peter out, doesn’t help.
In the end, Griff the Invisible aims to convince us that love is the greatest superpower of all, but its frequent stumbles may leave you questioning whether that sentiment, like its character’s quirky aspirations, is the stuff of truth or delusion.
“Griff the Invisible” opens in Atlanta on Sept. 9 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
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