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Overall Rating

Worth A Look34.78%
Average: 30.43%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Just a little above average."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Special" has a very fine line to walk - we've got to basically like its main character, and we've got to like him for the very same things that make us laugh at him, and make him an object of our pity. It's tricky to make a movie about someone who is not that bright, and I don't know if the people making "Special" quite pull it off the way they'd like.

"Special" is the name of an antidepressant just starting clinical trials, and Les (Michael Rappaport) is one of the first to test it. The comic-book-loving parking enforcement officer says he doesn't feel depressed, but his mood isn't positive either, so he takes the pills and goes about his business. Soon, he discovers that they're having side effects: At first, he can hover in the air; when he tells this to Dr. Dobson (Jack Kehler), he discovers he's telepathic, too - Dobson's mouth is saying to stop taking them, but mentally he's saying to keep going. The only people he tells are the brothers who run the comic book shop he frequents, who are skeptical, but if he doesn't have powers, why do the brothers funding the drug try to kidnap him after he gets on the news by saving Maggie (Alexandra Holden), the pretty clerk at the local all-night market, from a holdup?

This is a low-budget independent film, so aside from not expecting much in the way of eye-popping effects, folks going to see it should temper their expectations of the cast a bit, too. Michael Rappaport is the biggest name in the cast, and having him play the lead as this character makes the film a bit of a challenge for the audience: Les is timid by nature and probably of below-average intelligence, so he's going to spend a great deal of the movie being pushed around and/or looking like a fool. And while I think Rappaport overplays the character a little, he does get across what this guy is like, what goes on in his head. The trouble is that a character like that doesn't quite reach and and grab the audience, and as well as Rappaport plays Les, I didn't quite reach in and grab him, so to speak. It might just be that Rappaport is better as part of an ensemble and isn't a leading man who can appear in nearly every scene; he just doesn't quite have a big enough personality to carry this movie.

The rest of the cast is people who look kind of familiar, but they don't often steal scenes from Rappaport. Paul Blackthorne and Ian Bohen are the brothers after Les, and Blackthorne does have some fun playing a would-be shark. Josh Peck and Robert Baker are the brothers who run the local comic shop, and they're like Kevin Smith split into his component parts, with Peck's Joey getting all the pure enthusiasm and Baker's Everett getting all the cynical sarcasm. Alexandra Holden plays the girl Les is smitten with, though they barely speak until the end.

The moment where the two do talk is one of the movie's best; it gives us something unexpected and lets us see both Maggie and Les in a new way. There's a bunch of moments like that scattered throughout the movie, where we see these characters as the best that they can be despite their limitations - for instance, the moment when Everett drops his seeming contempt for the rest of the world to help Les - and they make us feel good despite how dark the rest of the movie can be. The drug's effects on Les aren't entirely positive, after all, and Paul Blackthorne's Jonas certainly shows us the worst side of humanity.

They're just moments, though, floating in a movie that seems to drag despite its short runtime (82 minutes). The writing/directing team of Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore doesn't quite seem to know how to end the film, either, and have set themselves up in a spot where very subtle differences in tone can throw the audience off. Sometimes it's because we don't quite know whether to laugh at Les or feel for him; other times there's a bit of violence that provokes a sort of muted reaction: It's nasty and realistic, but the shock of it doesn't hit us hard enough.

"Special" is pretty good, and has moments that will certainly stick in the audience's mind for a while. Much like its main character, it's not exceptional, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a person's time - even the unexceptional occasionally have something notable about them.

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originally posted: 08/04/07 09:56:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2006 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/12/11 mr.mike I preferred "Defendor". 3 stars
3/09/07 Dr Trendy Legbroken A very heartwarming film, not so good an ending 4 stars
11/05/06 Dr. Albert Chinzo i saw this at Edinburgh this summer and it was just fabulous. 4 stars
10/30/06 Kris Galuska Saw it at the Austin Film Festival. One of the best movies of the year. 5 stars
9/20/06 Bob Crackhower Excellent movie! 5 stars
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  21-Nov-2008 (R)
  DVD: 31-Mar-2009



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