Super Sucker
review by 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 DumberSuper 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.

Click here to read the interview.

Written and
Directed by:

Menno Meyjes

John Cusack
Noah Taylor
Leelee Sobieski
Molly Parker
Ulrich Thomsen

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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