Dan Lybarger, 24 January 2003
For better and for worse, Super
Sucker doesn’t quite live up to its title. Actor Jeff Daniels’
second film as a writer-director has some of the tastelessness one
would associate with his former supervisors the Farrelly Brothers,
who directed him in Dumb and Dumber. Super Sucker has
some guilt inducing laughs and pointed barbs at the eerier aspects
of sales culture and its unnatural emphasis on positive thinking.
What Super Sucker lacks is a consistent outrageousness and
the kind of rampant creativity the Farrellys use to counteract their
vulgarity. As a writer, Daniels comes up with about forty-five
minutes of inspired silliness, but, eventually, Super Sucker
winds up being a one-joke film.
Admittedly, that joke is often
funnier than it should be. Daniels stars as Fred Barlow, a
door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman whose enthusiasm for his
product results in a creepy sort of emotional attachment -- and
we’re not talking about the gizmos he includes with the Super Sucker
home cleaning systems. Barlow’s devotion is unnerving because his
tears at his mother’s funeral are probably due to the fact that her
Super Sucker is being buried with her.
Despite his love for his product,
he may have to find another line of work. He’s about to be run out
of business by a more well-heeled competitor named Winslow
Schnaebelt (Harve Presnell, from Fargo and Daniels’ previous
directorial project Escanaba in Da Moonlight). Fred's rivals
can organize a parade at the drop of a hat and have no qualms about
encroaching on Fred's own territory. Heading home in disgust after
yet another futile pitch, Fred discovers why his wife was upset when
someone described a Super Sucker as being merely a "vacuum." A long
forgotten attachment called a "Homemaker's Little Helper," winds up
having unintended benefits. While some people might object to
finding their spouses having more than an emotional tie to a
household appliance, Fred sees a potential goldmine. Gathering up
thousands of the now antiquated attachments, he finds customers who
are now willing to pay cash to own the entire machines. Of course,
not only does Fred have to keep ahead of Schnaebelt, he has to watch
out for a mysterious regulatory agency that doesn't take kindly to
his brand of creativity.
As corny and wince-inducing as this
sounds, Daniels and his able cast of Michigan-based actors actually
get some mileage out of this premise. The shots of satisfied
customers are quick and distant. It's Fred's optimism, not the
machines, that's being played for laughs. This is where the film
seriously flirts with success. Daniels and the others also nail the
language and mannerisms of the sales trade. Having a father in real
estate, I can tell you all the pet phrases are captured in this
movie. There's an inherent optimism that's crucial for sales that,
in some people, can border on delusion. In the early scenes where
Fred and his associates run through their pep talks even though
their giddy fervor won't solve their problems with Schnaebelt.
After a while, the momentum winds
down and doesn't pick up again until the finale when Fred briefly
rallies thousands of satisfied customers in the middle of a downtown
traffic jam. There are some fitfully amusing nods to Gilligan's
Island (that series' star Dawn Wells has a cameo), but for the
most part it feels like Daniels is stretching his aphrodisiac
vacuums father than their extension chords reach.
Interestingly, Super Sucker
has opened in over 100 theaters in the Midwest and may expand
depending on its performance. While it's nice to see a locally made
film find an audience outside of the Hollywood system, one wishes a
more fully equipped comedy had benefited from this pitch.
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R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult