That superhero triumphalism continues to dominate Hollywood is a peculiar trend in our pop-cultural history, but it makes the trickle down into character-driven, low-budget Sundance indies almost inevitable. In Special, a meek meter reader with fanboy proclivities (Michael Rappaport) enrolls in a clinical trial for an experimental anti-depressant, after which he develops powers like levitation, ESP, and the ability to pass through walls. With his newfound self-confidence, he dons a homemade costume and preemptively tackles evildoers while they’re still scheming in their heads, but could this cat simply be missing a couple marbles? In the first act alone, writer-directors Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore give up their “Is he or isn’t he?” game by showing us a sane observer’s point of view—yes, this pathetic nut is swimming on the floor, not hovering inches above. All that’s left then is a miserablist analogue to M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, a sad portrait of paranoid delusion with wipe-out stunts played for the comic wincing of Jackass. Rappaport’s befuddled sincerity has never registered so poignantly, but given its singular premise, for the film to waste an easy opportunity to satirize vigilante do-goodery and pharmaceutical dependence is, well, villainous.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 19, 2008