A crude film that punches down on the audience most likely to enjoy it.
I’ve never been to Comic-Con. Or any con variant, really. The mammoth conventions in San Diego and New York have always had a rose-colored tinge though, appearing like a joyous union of like-minded fans connecting and celebrating their beloved interests. Even the smaller town cons seemed amazing, though a bit sadder and usually full of faded celebrities from times past. But they still represented a haven for the nerd community, something I found endearing.
The makers of Supercon have a very different vision of conventions and their attendees. The team certainly seems to have spent their time in what the film portrays as trenches. Director and co-writer Zak Knutson, who has made two Marvel documentaries—one chronicling the company’s rise from pulp to pop and the other spanning the seventy-five years of Captain America—is likely well-versed in fan culture. Additional writers, Dana Snyder and Andy Sipes, have worked on many shows that would have them attend conventions around the country like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the upcoming Dallas & Robo.
In the film, comic conventions exist primarily as a paycheck for the celebrity guests, many of whom struggle to find steady work. Former child star Keith Mahar (Russell Peters) comes to Supercon after his wife has left him, leaving him extra strapped for cash as divorce lawyers and bills loom. The days are long and he often goes unrecognized when he refuses to wear the turban his character wore in the pre-PC 80’s television show. When he is recognized, it is usually accompanied by the storyline-derived nickname “Ball Cancer Kid” or a quick punch to the groin by the egotistical star of the show, and main draw of the convention, Adam King (Clancy Brown). Between these degrading run-ins and signing autographs, Keith gets to see his fellow low-ranking industry friends: childish cartoon voice-over actor, Mark (Ryan Kwanten); sardonic comic book writer, Allison (Maggie Grace); buoyant 80’s TV star, Brock (Brooks Brasselman). After a fight with King, all four members get fired and banned from the rest of the event by the convention promoter Gil (Mike Epps), pushing the guilty Mark to craft a plan and make amends.
To make their money, get revenge on King and Gil, and have a little fun at one of these conventions for once, he decides they should steal King’s paycheck, who charges seventy-five dollars for every autograph, and Gil’s profits from the weekend. The plan is simple enough, appropriately flawed and ill-conceived considering their experience with heists. However, it is hard to root for these unsavory heroes. They may not be as aggressively unlikable as King or Gil, but the group is by no means nice company. Mark sells the heist as an epic crusade to defend the fans from the corrupt celebrities and businessman stealing money from them, but they bully the convention and those in attendance as much as the characters set up to be the bad guys. They seem to hate their fans almost as much as they hate themselves. Did you know that nerds are fat, virginal, socially-awkward losers? This film will remind you and remind you and remind you.
The unnecessary and unfunny vulgarity persists throughout the film, culminating in one of the grossest bathroom scenes ever. Between the countless instances of masturbation gags, blow job miming, and excessive, unimagined cursing, we are meant to feel for these characters who are so different from the men they are trying to bring down. Keith’s big emotional moment comes when he tells Mark the depth of the troubles in his life including how he has lost his agent because he refuses to audition for stereotypical terrorist or convenience store clerk roles, something Mark could not understand as a white guy. This would have more weight if the scene where the two guys run the gamut of East Asian stereotypes while mocking Allison’s boyfriend didn’t exist.
Surprisingly, John Malkovich proves to be the heart of the film, a phrase I never thought I’d say. Introduced at the midway point, he plays Sid, a comic book writer friends with Allison who the team attempts to involve in the plan. He refuses at first, not looking for trouble, but comes around after witnessing King make a fan with Down Syndrome cry by refusing to sign anything without being paid. Sid is true north on the film’s moral compass, coming to the conventions to be with the fans and appreciate the art he has the chance to make.
Ultimately, the film squanders the potential of exploring the convention culture, a world we haven’t seen much of on film yet. It seems unsure of whether it wants to satirize fandoms, the greedy consumerism of conventions, or the lives of D-list and lower celebrities. Swinging wildly at all three, the film feels muddled tonally and rather long for its 100-minute runtime. When Sid interacts with the central team or King, the shadow of a film that could have been appears—one with a clear intention of its message and filled with deserving heroes. Instead, we are left with crass heroes who easily would have ended up like the villain if they had received a bit more success and fame. If what we see in Supercon is what the convention atmosphere is really like, the creators have effectively saved me the cost of admission.