Whether or not he believed in astrology, the fate of Robert Kenner was in the heavens. Breaking up following a close passage with Jupiter, the fragments of asteroid WE2007 scattered in wider orbits than the original object, some of them burning up in the atmosphere, at least one of them impacting in Earth, London, Peckham… Bob Kenner.
Fortunately, miraculously, Bob not only survived but positively thrived, developing what can only be described as superpowers in the aftermath, flight, laser vision and super strength, the latter more easily controlled than the first two with several unfortunate mishaps during his initial period of adjustment and training.
Six years have passed and life has changed for the former “flying postman of Peckham,” now the world’s first officially designated superhero and handled under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence’s Emergency Response/Disaster Unit and the highly strung and somewhat overly controlling Theresa Maria Ford, though he is obliged to refer to himself as a civil servant, with every rescue requiring reams of paperwork. But in between the public and the covert operations and the adulation – when is the last time Bob had a date?
The feature directorial debut of Jon Drever, expanded from his own 2009 short of the same name, SuperBob could not be more obviously targeted at the compromised couples market if it were announced in bold Comic Sans in an oversized speech bubble, a socially awkward superhero trying to get the impossible girl, though as such improbably mashups go it is infinitely preferable to a drearily demographic pleasing soap opera set in a football team.
Scripted by William Bridges and Brett Goldstein (Bob himself) from Drever’s original storyline, unlike many superhero films the origin story is mercifully over in the three minute prelude before the credits have even rolled, but just as swiftly it mutates into a stuffy and stagnant situation comedy about the problems of being British as Bob tries to explain to an interviewer the necessity of customer satisfaction surveys in his duties.
Preparing for his first date with the stunning June (Da Vinci’s Demons‘ Laura Haddock), Bob’s cleaner Doris (Natalia Tena, formerly of the Order of the Phoenix) takes him clothes shopping and offers unsolicited and unvarnished advice, aware he doesn’t stand a chance without her staging an intervention. “I’ve just got to be myself,” he tries to reassure himself; “Not if you want her to like you,” she counters acidly.
Very much a romantic comedy playing dress up to pretend to be grander than it is, the emotional cues are telegraphed and inspired by very obvious sources, the dance at the old people’s home where Bob’s mother is a resident lifted wholesale from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and such drama as there is feels contrived, a clause in Bob’s contract preventing him from working on his day off regardless of circumstance.
That conceit might have flown had the satire been more developed but the tone is so resolutely light if would almost feel as though it were aimed at a tween audience were it not for the entirely unnecessary swearing, nor does the humour sustain it, repeated references to Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves unclear whether the writers believe they will appeal to that literate audience or if they are mocking those who have actually read the daunting tome.
As Bob’s handler, Catherine Tate should have been a reason to recommend the film yet Theresa never comes across as more than one of many already established characters from her sketch show, overbearing and bureaucratic without ever expanding beyond that despite Tate having more than proved she is capable of handling drama with depth and emotion in her work beyond that show.
Fortunately Goldstein and Tena are a warm and affable onscreen pairing even when bickering and technically it is an undeniably accomplished production, the quality of the effects proving that modest budget is no obstacle. Like Bob himself, while SuperBob may not achieve all that could have been hoped, its intention and its spirit are good and kind, and there are certainly many worse options available on date night.