A film review by Craig J. Koban




2004, PG-13, 106 mins.

A mock-documentary directed by Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill’s directorial debut COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE is a film so astronomical wretched and pain inducing that saying it’s a truly bad film would be a below-the-belt insult to truly bad films.  For this film, an apparent mock-documentary of comic book geeks and the convention circuit, to be rushed straight to video and not get a theatrical release is one of the best and most sensible decisions I think that a studio executive has ever consciously made.  The movie is so atrocious that why any person in a studio boardroom would want to show it is miles beyond me. 

Sometimes mediocre films sort of celebrate their awfulness in a kind of cute, self-referential way.  COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE and Hamill and company don’t seem to have a clue what kind of travesty they’ve made.  Hamill seems so wrapped up in the abysmal proceedings that, damn it, he kind of forgets to take a film class in directing to at least give us a polished piece of work.  Strangely,  the film also has no writing credits.  Odd indeed, as maybe it’s just a reflection of what a half-cocked grab bag of useless and amateurish footage this film is.  If THIS IS SPINAL TAP represents to upper echelon of the mock-documentary form, then Hamill’s film represents in dark, decrepit, and intellectually bankrupted lower half. 

The film is that bad. 

The film’s setup is fairly thin and flimsy.  It's advertised as a mock documentary, yet I am not altogether sure what its exactly “mocking”.  It's ostensibly about crazy and fanatical comic book collectors and those wild and wacky conventions they go to on a yearly basis, dressed in all sorts of outlandish attire and speaking alien languages that almost guarantees that they will never date a member of the opposite sex again.  The problems are largely with Hamill’s approach. 

First, he tries to spoof and send up the industry and fans while paying homage to them.  Hamill, in real life, is a comic book-aholic, so any real attempts at mocking the industry that he personally cherishes are negligible at best.  It's too lightweight and not scathing enough.  It does not take the time to look seriously at this strange phenomenon and say, “what’s wrong with this picture,” or “look at how absurd or moronic this all is.” 

Hamill plays it safe, and seems too afraid to point out the obvious and humorous shortcomings of the subject matter.  The film just does not have a clear vision at all, and is one of the most aimless ones that I have ever seen.  Does Hamill want to satirize the industry or lovingly support it?  COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE is not really satire at all, as satires, by their very nature, hold conventions, people, and establishments up for humorous ridicule.  I never sensed that with Hamill’s film, as it takes the mock out of mock-documentary and just basically becomes a love sonnet to the industry.  It’s basically just a bad documentary. 

The other large failure is that Hamill plays a fictional character in the film.  Why?  I have no idea.  Wouldn’t it have been infinitely more interesting if Hamill played himself doing a documentary?  I digress.  He stars in the film as Donald Swan (last name in homage to Superman artist Curt Swan, my geek powers are pretty good too, ya know!) a high school history teacher and a man who is completely and emotionally orgasmic about all things comic books.  Facing the obvious ridicule of many of his students, he is revealed quickly as an avid collector and even owns his own store.  He truly is an authority on comic books and especially loves one particular old-school creation called Captain Courage (again, a fictional creation).  You see, Mr. Courageous is about to be made into one of those bloated, multi-million dollar motion pictures and the studio has hired Swan as a consultant (why they hire a nobody and not the hero’s artists or creators is completely beyond me).   

Swan has a moment of inspiration after being given the job of consultant.  He decides to film a documentary on the making of the new film and of the super big San Diego comic convention that is promoting it (Hamill shoots at the real  San Diego con, more on this later).  Essentially it is after this point where the film completely and utterly falls apart, as Swan and his posse conduct a series of endless and meaningless interviews with some of the all-time greats of comic books and films.  Why they gave the ok to be in this waste is, again, stupefying. 

To make the film even more saturated with loose and useless fodder, Hamill throws in a twist of having the insensitive studio changing the nature of the Courage character, given him a new attitude, costume, not to mention a hot babe partner wearing next to nothing.  Swan, of course, hates the idea with a passion, being the nerdy, pre-pubescent comic purist that he is.  He’s a champion of purity in the comic book form, one of those geeks that would cry foul if a studio were to make a new Superman film and give him a black cape and tights and make him leaner and meaner.  The rest of the film is an endless and completely unfunny attempt by Swan to thwart the studio while mingling with the local celebs until the film reaches a climax that is so jaw-droppingly horrible that I felt like kicking in my TV set. 

The cameos are a nice surprise, but they end up being kind of meaningless in the larger picture.  Sure, there is the “hey look, it's so-and-so” feeling, but the cameos are a cheap grab for audience participation.  Hamill bumps into many famous people, including, in no particular order, Stan Lee (Marvel Comic's Kingpin), Peter David (writer of THE HULK), Hugh Hefner (that one, yes!), Pal Dini (of THE BATMAN animated show), Ray Harryhausen (special effects pioneer), Billy Mummy (of the 60’s LOST IN SPACE TV show), actor Ron Pearlman (HELLBOY), cult idol of EVIL DEAD Bruce Campbell, Simpson’s creator Matt Groening, and in an appearance he’s regretting now, writer/director Kevin Smith.  Not one of them says or does anything that allows me to believe that (a) they looked comfortable and (b) they had any desire to be a part of the film.  The result is kind of embarrassing, a series of vignettes comprised of famous people who looked like they were simply enjoying the comic con until Hamill and his cameras showed up and wrecked their days. 

The problem is that Hamill shoots at the real comic convention in San Diego, which spoils the film in everyway.  Oftentimes it’s completely obvious that this has occurred, as you can see faceless bystanders look strangely at Hamill and his camera crew or look into the camera as well.  The resulting effect is obvious and amateurish.  Not only that, with so many geniuses of the comic book and film medium in the movie, the fact that they are ONLY allowed to talk about Captain Courage is as weak as it is disheartening.  There’s a forced and strained look on all their faces, as if they have no desire to say the inane things they do. 

The supporting cast is equally terrible. Jess Harnell plays  Ricky, Swan's cameraman, probably in an effort to churn out more contrived comic relief, and Billy West plays Leo Matusik, the long-lost grandson of the late originator of the Commander Courage character and the only heir with any legal right to the cartoon character. Donna D'Errico plays Papaya Smith, the super-sexy blond bombshell that is hired to co-star in the updated Courage film.  To say that these actors will never work again seems like a frank and kind way of letting them know that they  are dreadful.  Individual  moments with them play with the thespian skill of porn actors without the inevitable sex scene. 

And what about Hamill himself?  Well, he’s awfully hard to hate, and has enthusiasm and likeable qualities.  He may be forever known as that surfer, California looking Jedi Knight from a galaxy far, far, away, but Hamill is a gifted performer (he did Amadeus on Broadway) and some of his voice work and impersonations are hilarious.  Yet, his Sawn is so bland and boring that you pray for the minute where he’ll break out into hysterics, or the odd Joker impersonation.  Hamill missed REAL opportunities for lampooning himself.  Not only that, but as a director, he has no skill and (thank the Gods of Cobalt) he has no future directing again.  Watching the film was like seeing two cars collide needlessly and then thinking, “This should have never happened while I walk the earth.” 

The other obvious problem is the film’s style, tone, and mood.  It’s a mess, and its attempts at humor are juvenile and dumb, to say the least.  Satires, at their core, are supposed to make us laugh and then make us really  think about what we are laughing at.  They are self-aware, but there is an undercurrent of something topical or interesting going on there.  It feels like Hamill just loves comics too much to bravely do them injustice in anyway, and the resulting film is about as provocative as eye snot.  The film was clearly made for comic lovers (as I am one), but what about the virginal and lay viewer?  Any attempts at even slightly lampooning the industry falls either flat or is played to safely.  Are Hamill and his crew just too scared  and embarrassed to come out and say, “C’mon, this is all a bit ridiculous, let’s bring it out in the open and really look at it.” 

Before anyone emails me telling me that I “don’t get” the film, hear me out.  It's not that I don’t get the film, as I think I know what it’s trying to be.  The problem is, comic book fans, that the film is a catastrophic failure.  It fails as a scathing and fascinating documentary.  It fails as a comedy.  It fails at satire and spoofing its intended victims.   Not only that, it fails at being something of consequence.  What we are left with is a bad movie…bad, bad, bad, B-A-D!  I am a comic book fan, having owned and read thousands in my short lifetime, so I have a certain level of intimacy with the film’s subject matter.  The problem is that Hamill approaches it so careful that he seems like he’s afraid of offending me or hurting my feelings.  What’s more offensive, making me look at my hobby with a sort of self-mocking reverence, or walking by a dude at a convention that can sing folk songs in Klingon and say nothing about it!?  That’s the real crime that this film perpetrates, and this results in something that is witlessly shallow at its core.  

Hamill, stick to your day job as an inspired voice actor on cartoons.  The proverbial fork has been stuck in your directing career, and you were “done” 90 minutes ago.

  H O M E