Craig Mazin's Superhero Movie benefits from timing and low expectations. Had it been released 10 years ago, it probably would have been dismissed as second-rate Zucker-brothers silliness. Then came Scary Movie and the cinematic plague of Epic/Date Movies. Suddenly, thanks to the Wayans brothers and comedy antichrists Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, standards for genre parodies plummeted to such unspeakable lows that Superhero Movie can now be warmly embraced as second-rate Zucker-brothers silliness. Nobody expects spoofs like this to be funny or clever, let alone satirical: It's enough if they aren't soul-crushing or egregiously awful. By those exceedingly lenient standards, Superhero Movie is a rousing success.
It helps that Superhero is a fairly faithful, coherent parody of Spider-Man, with Drake Bell in the Tobey Maguire role of a clean-cut teen who develops superpowers after an unfortunate incident with a dragonfly. Christopher McDonald co-stars as Bell's arch-nemesis, a wealthy, terminally ill industrialist who must kill someone every day to stay alive. Leslie Nielsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Marion Ross, and Tracy Morgan are among the familiar faces popping up in supporting roles, and while a dude playing Tom Cruise makes a groan-inducing, already-dated appearance, he boasts a fraction of the screen time afforded to a suicidal, profane parody of superstar physicist Stephen Hawking, who was doing that crazy robo-voice-box thing well before T-Pain made it cool.
Superhero's commercials make it look like a zeitgeist-crazed sequel to Epic Movie. Unsurprisingly, the film's weakest moments are also its timeliest: It's easy to imagine Mazin calling up his teenage nephew and pointedly inquiring, "Now the kids are all doing the Facebook on their YouTube, right? And they do that with the iPhone and the two-girls-one-cup, right? Putting all that hip, cool stuff in my movie will really wow the young people, eh?" Superhero spices up its pratfalls and verbal tomfoolery with stabs at Seltzer/Friedberg lowest-common-denominator raunchiness, but it generally opts for the more genial, low-key brand of spoofery practiced by producer David Zucker. It's remarkable how far a few mild chuckles and an overall air of affability will take a lowbrow comedy these days. Undiscriminating comedy fans hungering for the High School High of superhero parodies need look no further.