Supersonic Man  (1979)PG

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The people of Europe are more culturally sophisticated than we are. For anyone who doubts this, I need only point out that in Europe you can buy a Special Edition widescreen DVD of Supersonic Man, while in the U.S. of A. all you can get is bootleg copies with a dubbed soundtrack mastered from old VHS tapes. Once again America embraces provincial backwardness and ignorance. While the rest of the First World supports education, culture, and social welfare of all kinds, our country remains the laughable land where Creation Science is taken seriously, and where it’s impossible to watch Supersonic Man with its original audio and aspect ratio without special video equipment of possibly illegal origin. We Americans once again just sell ourselves short and assume regular folks aren’t going to appreciate the depth and subtleties of European filmmaking technique, or that working to understand the complex layers of such filmic work just isn’t worth the trouble. Wake up, fellow Americans! Expand your horizons! Dare to try something challenging and foreign! Demand the release of Supersonic Man in U.S. format!!

Because this just might be the crappiest, lamest, and unintentionally funniest superhero movie in the history of ever. (Though rumor has it that Bollywood may give this a run for the money.)

What it is, is a cheap-ass attempt to cash in on Superman: The Movie, which came out the previous year. Made by Spaniards with Italian help, with occasional location bits in New York City. Why there? Because though the actors are mostly speaking Spanish, the story is set in Manhattan.

DVD format issues aside, it really is a shame that we Americans are able to watch only the version dubbed into English. Not because the Spanish version has more lifelike dialogue — both are as crudely dubbed as an early sixties giant-monster film, since they didn’t bother with recording any live audio during shooting — but because of the music. The English version is pretty much just one or two completely lame themes of fake brass from a synthesizer... but the Spanish version has DISCO! Disco that is sung, ironically, in English. Supersonic’s old-skool seventies disco theme song is so cool that I just have to post an MP3ized excerpt of it here. (I’m sorry about the audio quality there... but as far as I can tell, it may actually sound that bad in the official release.)

To give you the flavor of this epic adventure, I will describe in full the movie’s first big action sequence. The Scientist’s Daugher is driving to work. The Evil Henchmen are following. She spots them. Does she spot them by being paranoiacally observant? No, she notices them because they pull up beside her and glower at her. Anyway, a car chase ensues. A car chase between an aged VW Beetle and a bashed up mid-sixties Plymouth Valiant. They must not have wanted to waste any money on cars they were going to wreck. They go over the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn, and a few minutes later they’re on a rural dirt road. (Whoa, if they can cover that much ground so fast, maybe we shouldn’t laugh at the Beetle and the Valiant.) The bad guys pull out a revolver — a piece that, to my untutored eye, looks like the firearm equivalent of a Plymouth Valiant — and start blasting. They pop one of her back tires! In desperation, she smashes through a Road Closed barrier... only to discover that there’s a steamroller parked athwart the road! (A steamroller so close to the barricade that there’s no way she wouldn’t have seen it before deciding to crash through.)

And... and... THE STEAMROLLER IS MADE OF PLYWOOD!

If there’s one thing that fans remember this movie for, it’s the Acme® plywood steamroller. Yes, it says ACME on the side. Anyway, she’s careening directly at it, with no chance of stopping in time, when suddenly... the steamroller lifts up into the air, out of the way! And what is lifting it? The burly arms of a man in a red bodysuit and a glittery blue mask! And there’s a cape, so you can tell he’s a superhero. (Or, even better, a luchador.) He’s so strong that he can lift it under one edge, rather than the center, and it doesn’t tip over at all. Anyway, she screeches past him, under the plywood wheels, and then he sets it down again, in front of the Evil Henchmen’s car. They scream “the brakes, the brakes!” and skid wildly to one side. Their car rolls down a grassy slope... and spontaneously explodes half way down!

Throughout the film, there will be scenes where things explode in Supersonic’s presence for no visible reason. (It’s always “Supersonic”, not “Supersonic Man”, by the way.) Like, he flies over the bad guys’ boat, they shoot at him, he does pretty much nothing in response, and the boat explodes. All of which is just a little taste of the much bigger sourceless explosions to come in the climactic battle. See, it’s foreshadowing. A literary device, y’know.

The coda to this first action scene is that Supersonic doesn’t introduce himself or anything, he switches to his secret identity and approaches her as just a passerby wanting to help... and then (a) scoffs at her report of seeing a superhero, and (b) starts hitting on her! What a guy. Oh, he refers to the slope the bad guys went down as “the cliff”. I guess that gives us, in theory at least, a reason for the car to have exploded.

The alter ego, I’m glad to report, has a magnificently cheesy seventies moustache. And by the way, we’re told that his body was created for him artificially by the aliens who sent him, to be invincible, and that he’s given fake memories to be able to act like an Earthling... and yet the alter ego has no powers and can get knocked out or tied up as easily as anyone. Does that make any sense? (Come on, would you want it to?)

Anyway, the rest of the film consists of running battles between Supersonic and the Bond-villain bad guy, one Dr. Gulik, who wants to capture the daughter in order to coerce the father into building a destroy-everything machine. And Supersonic foils the sub-badguys in a hundred ways before finally taking on Gulik’s island fortress...

Just try and make a list of exactly what powers Supersonic does and does not have. Go ahead and try, mua ha ha ha haaaaa! Or his weaknesses: Dr. Gulik finally does find some effect that breaks through Supersonic’s invincibility and renders him helpless, but he never says what it was.

I should perhaps mention here that the acting job delivered by the bodybuilder in the Supersonic suit strongly resembles one of the plastic & latex covered bad guys on an episode of Power Rangers, consisting mostly of theatrical arm-waving. 

The rest of the cast deliver performances of merely ordinary lameness. The one “name” actor is Cameron Mitchell as Gulik, who does a completely generic bog-standard job of dreadfully hamming it up. Unlike most everyone else in the cast, he speaks his lines in English.

Anyway, the action in this film consists mainly of extremely cheap flying effects (including little plastic models of the flying hero, a la Ultraman), extremely cheap raygun effects (why use strings of squibs when you can just draw a yellow line on the film?), extremely cheap roadbuilding-equipment effects, extremely cheap miniatures, and so on... they even re-use the same box every time the bad guy steals another Vital Ingredient for his destructotron... but pyrotechnics that aren’t cheap at all. For some reason, the one area where they proved willing to spend money on a classier grade of effects was on the flames and explosions. And there are lots and lots of them. There is even a big shiny robot with a flamethrower mounted in its right arm. (This robot is the coolest item in the film by conventional non-ironic standards, which is to say it’s probably not the lamest robot you’ve ever seen in a movie.) They shoot fire all over, they blow up all kindsa crap. Either they spent their entire budget on the combustibles before they started putting together anything else, or maybe some mobster friend of the producers had leverage to force a good pyrotechnician to work for nothing.

Oddly, there’s a scene in the final battle that closely foreshadows a similar one in Superman III, made four years later... Oh, and if I’m going to mention links to other movies, I’d like to note that the reason that Supersonic’s alien masters give him for why he has to go to Earth is straight out of Plan Nine From Outer Space.

There is just one more aspect of this wonder of a film that needs to be discussed: the KOMEDY. Almost every action scene, and most of the scenes in between, has some super-lame humor mixed into it. To give you an idea of how side-splitting this humor is, I present the following example: several bad guys are shooting at Supersonic, and he gestures at one of the guns and it turns into a banana. (See what I mean about trying to figure out what powers he has?) And the bad guy, what does he do upon finding his fist filled with this fruity frustration of his fusilade of fire? He says — hee hee, ha ha ha ha, hee hee — “I don’t like bananas.” (In the Spanish dub, he only says “¡Maldito!”, which is pretty much equivalent to a simple “dammit”.)

Don’t get me started on the drunk in the sandwich board who wanders into about half the scenes in the film.

Some further specimens of how this movie sets about tickling your ribs:

  • A brawl in a restaurant in which people get pelted with spaghetti and meatballs.
  • The drunk asks the flamethrowing robot for a light.
  • “Do I look stupid to you?”
  • There’s a character who stutters.

Yep, it’s ha fuckin' ha every minute. And yet, the total failure to be comedic just adds to the overall metahumor. Enjoy!