Everyone thinks they can make a superhero movie these days. Catastrophic Comics was a short-lived (2008-2009) publisher that released four Sparks issues out of a planned eight. (The Sparks graphic novel in paperback came out last year, though.) The company was best known for being co-owned by William Katt. Now, that comic story has come to low-budget film, with the DVD release of Sparks.
What sets it apart is that the film is set in the 40s and takes a noir tone. Unfortunately, the storytelling is needlessly convoluted, with most of the movie told as flashback. But first, there’s a serial killer prologue combined with fake news articles about a meteor strike creating thirteen radioactively powered people. Cut to a hard-boiled journalist setup, with a guy in fedora and trenchcoat (Chase Williamson) stating he wants to report his own murder. That’s Sparks, our hero, who was a teen vigilante due to a childhood accident with a mysterious liquid where he lost his parents. He partners up with Lady Heavenly (Ashley Bell), and they have sex on rooftops.
Soon, a villain (William Katt) who makes movies of his crimes (and then leaves the cameras and film behind) gets the better of the pair. Warning: Heavenly is one of only two major female roles, and her main function is motivating the hero, either through his crush on her or being tortured. The other (Marina Squerciati), a shapeshifter, slinks around in lingerie.
Clearly writer/director Christopher Folino is familiar with D.O.A., Batman, Daredevil, Sin City, and Watchmen. So much of this movie is familiar, from the training sequence to the motivations of revenge and redemption. Much of the structure is based around reveals, where you think you know one thing and then the viewer is told something different, but the “secrets” are predictable, particularly to comic readers. Even though Sparks is telling his own story, he’s more acted upon than acting, thrown hither and yon by vow and circumstance instead of making substantial choices.
The dialogue is clunky and cringe-inducing, and the special effects look like layered cut-and-paste over fake green-screen backgrounds. However, Clint Howard is a newspaper editor, Clancy Brown is the trainer/mentor, and Jake Busey is another superhero (Sledge). It was due to those favorite names that I kept sitting through all of this film. It moves quickly, anyway.
The DVD has a three-and-a-half-minute making-of that tells you little beyond what you get watching the movie; a minute of outtakes (two scenes); and commentary by Katt, Folino, and co-director Todd Burrows. (The studio provided a review copy.)