Although Comic Book Villains seems inspired by such eclectic ensemble pieces as Very Bad Things, Clerks and (in the case of the DVD cover) The Usual Suspects, the similarities end there. Starting out as an affable character comedy before veering wildly into sudden bloodletting and ham-handed melodrama, Comic Book Villains is recommendable for its colorful cast and very little else.A nameless middle-America town houses two comic book stores. One is owned by a passionately rabid comics freak named Raymond and the other by a businesslike husband and wife (who care for nothing about comics that doesn’t involve profit). When a local hermit drops dead, word hits the streets that he left behind a massive collection of comic books in mint condition. Raymond wants the glory and admiration that such a haul would inspire, while Norman and Judy covet the collection for the financial gains it represents. When the deceased’s unpleasant mother refuses to sell the stash to either party, it sparks a vicious battle between the warring shopkeepers.
If that plot synopsis sounds a bit intriguing to you, it was one that also piqued my interest quite a bit. Unfortunately the film can’t retain the goofball charm offered in Act I, while the film devolves into pointless hysterics the longer it goes. If there’s one saving grace of Comic Book Villains (and it’s a big one), it’s the eclectic group of cool indie actors populating the farce.
Donal Logue (of TV’s Grounded for Life) is all sad-sack desperation as the sweaty and desperate Raymond, while Michael Rapaport (True Romance) earns a few white-bread giggles in a fairly underwritten role. Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) steals a few choice scenes as the middle-class housewife turned stingy shrew and D.J. Qualls (The New Guy) delivers some his best work to date. The background is sprinkled with several familiar faces (all of whom elevate the material they’re offered), most notably Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) as a creepy criminal type, Eileen Brennan (Private Benjamin) as the crusty old lady and Danny Masterson (TV’s Malcolm in the Middle) as the town’s local troublemaker.
It’s on the shoulders of the enthusiastic cast that Comic Book Villains avoids complete mediocrity. The ‘comic book message’ (though effectively invoked) is muddled and confused, while the jarring shifts in tone repeatedly pull you out of the action. If ever a movie could be dubbed ‘schizophrenic’, it’s Comic Book Villains, a movie that may find a special place in the hearts of the world’s true comic book freaks......but stands as nothing more than a mild curiosity to those looking for a Saturday night rental.