There is a solid idea buried somewhere beneath the rubble of obvious budgetary limitations and pedestrian craft in Average Joe, a shockingly low-rent action-comedy that takes aim at superhero origin stories. The satirical aim in director Mark Cantu’s screenplay is unintentionally several years too late. The film was in production in 2013 – sometime near the advent of “cinematic universes,” like the ones that have saturated the market as of late – and has hung around the festival circuit for nearly seven years. Whatever good or subversive idea it might have had has died in the interim.

That, of course, isn’t the film’s fault. Delayed releases happen all the time, so even if a film’s ideas are far outside the window of relevancy, it could still theoretically work in the right hands – ones that could finesse the comic potential into an amusingly rompish, visually playful (in other words, decent) movie. Cantu’s hands are very much the wrong ones.

The story follows Joe Martin (Jason Sedillo, mugging hopelessly), a recently out-of-work schlub living a semi-comfortable life with his wife, Sarah (Caitlin Rose Williams), and Sarah’s younger sister Emily (Skylar Brown). He has been on the job hunt for a while but, due to his utter blandness as a candidate, unsuccessfully so. Sarah suggests he fudge the facts of his résumé to make himself look good. This ends up working entirely, if unintentionally, in his favor.

It so happens that a group of superheroes is looking for another one to join their ranks. Mary Maddox/Blinx (Akasha Villalobos) can move faster than lightspeed. Hank Horowitz/Nightwatchman (Jason Scarbrough) is super-strong. Heinrich Rammelstein/Dr. Mystico (Taylor James Johnson) is incredibly smart. Larry Leija (Roman Garcia) is known as Flamer, and you get one guess as to what his power is.

Their nemesis is the all-powerful Lord Menace (Camden Toy, adopting a British dialect so uptight he can only be the villain), who is out to destroy the world (of all the satirical targets here, one would hope that Cantu might point out the circular logic of such a scheme, but no joy). Heaven knows why the combined talents of these heroes is not enough to thwart Menace, but then Joe acquires superpowers by way of the least likely plan in the history of superhero origin stories and becomes Average Joe, who can fly and generate electromagnetic power.

This is all presented with none of the grace it needs to sing, and indeed, it is sometimes astonishingly inept. The early stretch of the film, introducing us to Joe, the heroes and their otherworldly threat, is captured on camera so poorly that the dimensions have seemingly been flattened. Depth of field between characters in the foreground and background all but disappears, yet it clearly isn’t the result of some stroke of genius on Cantu’s part. This is especially clear in the muddy sound work, which often favors Dave Anson’s score or even badly incorporated radio and TV news broadcasts over dialogue happening in the same scene (case in point: a conversation at a restaurant that is clearly the focus of the scene but winds up lost in the ongoing report on the TV at the bar).

Signs of this ineptitude are everywhere – from the visual effects, which look as if they were painted in on a computer program, to the editing, which makes following the few pitiful action sequences entirely impossible – but it doesn’t just come down to aesthetic deficiency, either. Cantu has a strange attitude toward the women characters who populate this movie, with Sarah devolving into a damsel in distress, the revelation of Emily’s sex work treated as a degrading punchline to a nonexistent joke, and the benching of Blinx for approximately half of the movie. The attempts at humor are also jaundiced and embarrassing, not even trying to poke fun at the superhero genre. The climax, involving a bus of innocents put at risk, is deadly sincere.

Average Joe only works as an insult – to a genre, to its own ambitions and, finally, to the idea of an audience enjoying what it has to offer. This isn’t a movie; it’s a bad joke.

Summary
This isn’t a movie; it’s a bad joke.
10 %
Insulting Satire
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