January 02, 2010

Bit Parts That Time Forgot

I have a longstanding January 1st tradition of watching terrible, terrible movies on TV instead of going outside to immediately grab by the horns the new year's metaphorical bull of boundless potential. (I'm sure many other people have similar traditions.) In the past I've treated myself to such masterful crapfests as Lightning Jack and Night at the Museum; one year the Sci-Fi Channel was doing a marathon and I watched Star Treks III through V; and last year I was in Vegas so instead of a movie Mallory and I went and saw Stomp (still relevant!).

This year I'd already jumped the gun with Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus in December, so my choice to ring in 2010 was Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Widely renowned as being the Andrew Johnson of the franchise (i.e. the shittiest, and e.g. here), it pits Christopher Reeve's Man of Steel against a variety of anaemic foes: Gene Hackman reprising his role as Lex Luthor, Jon Cryer doing his best to try out for the "half" in Two and a Half Men, the spectre of the Cold War, and Nuclear Man, an evil "clone" of Superman with a tragically Eighties set of fake nails, an obvious steroid problem, and the worst case of Seasonal Affective Disorder in recorded history (he draws his power from the sun, so all one needs to do to scupper him — and these do actually happen in the movie — is close the curtains, have him step into an elevator, or, of course, push the moon in between the Earth and the sun and cause an eclipse). In between all that Reeve also has to contend, as Clark Kent, with an overzealous cougar, an aerobics class, and a ridiculous set piece along the lines of Mrs Doubtfire in which he attempts to go on a double date with two women at the same time.

And then there's the cabal of three nuclear arms dealers who contract Luthor to destroy Superman in the first place: the first two, unremarkable American and Russian stereotypes respectively, are played by equally unremarkable actors William Hootkins and Stanley Lebor; but the third, the inexplicably French Jean Pierre Dubois, is played by a rather feckless looking JIM BROADBENT, apparently still trying to find his niche. Broadbent gets about one minute of screen time, all told, in which he is introduced by Hackman as an "arms smuggler extraordinaire" who supplies "zee black marquette", in an embarrassingly clumsy piece of exposition. He does little in that scene except nod and bug out his eyes in a "I'm a foreigner who has trouble understanding English and is therefore slightly confused and terrified" sort of way; his moment of glory doesn't come 'til later when, having been introduced to Nuclear Man, he screams something suitably spineless like "sorry, Mr Luthor!" (his only line) and runs away — into the waiting arms of eventual international stardom, presumably.

It's a fairly forgettable performance, obviously, which is probably just as well as as far as Broadbent himself is concerned. But to an audience now, twenty years later, who know the man as an accomplished character actor and Oscar winner, the novelty of his appearance is a welcome high point (which isn't saying much) in the midst of so much other buffoonery. If only Renee Zellweger had crept in somewhere, too, we could have had a quirky Bridget Jones prequel and a really fascinating piece of cinematic history. Oh well.

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