Friday, April 3, 2015


Directed by Christopher Folino and Todd Burrows.
2013. Not Rated, 90 minutes.
Chase Williamson
Ashley Bell
Clancy Brown
Jake Busey
William Katt
Marina Squerciati
Clint Howard
Scott Rinker
David Sobolov

In 1921, a meteor hit the town of Rochester and wiped it out, killing all but a baker's dozen people. They have each developed their own super-power, presumably because of all the radiation they were exposed to, and came to be known as The Rochester 13. Strangely, though, most of them prefer to keep their powers hidden and blend into normal society. At a later point, a car full of bad guys racing from the scene of a robbery slams into a car containing a family of three, pushing it into a passing train. Mom and Dad are killed, but the baby boy, Ian Sparks (Williamson), survives. He is not adopted by, but is watched over by Archer (Brown), a cop that was first on the scene. As a teen, Ian decides to do what lots of people across the country have decided to do and become a "super." That is, he dons a costume and hits the streets of his hometown to fight crimes, even though he has no discernible super-human ability. Eventually, Sparks takes his talents to the big city where he meets Lady Heavenly (Bell), another super, and falls in love. There also happens to be a serial killer on the loose who impacts everything, including the relationship of our heroes.

Sparks makes use of a very interesting tactic early on and revisits this a number of times. In scenes involving the immediate pursuit of the killer it plays like a horror flick. The sights and sounds at these times are very reminiscent of the many chop-'em-ups I've watched over the years. It's effective enough that my daughter, who wandered into the room during one such scene, commented "I thought you said this was a superhero movie?" When I answer that it was, she left the room baffled. At other times, the tone combines with all the non-powered heroes running around to make Sparks feel like it's part of the same universe as Watchmen, just earlier in the timeline. Here, the supers are still respected, looked up to, and work in conjunction with the law. It's a nice throwback to an era when it was quite clear who the good guys and bad guys were.

What keeps Sparks interesting is that it subverts our intrinsic notions of just those very things, good guys and bad guys. It does so by playing with the idea that people will choose to be one or the other based on circumstance. Even Ian Sparks himself is not immune to this reality. When the crime fighting thing doesn't go as planned, he makes some poor, even despicable, decisions. And he's not the only one. Dawn, (Squerciati), a fellow super that has the hots for him, makes some really bad choices after getting out of the hero game and a worse one, at Sparks' insistence. She is a bit different in that her ability to pull off what she does is enhanced by the fact that she actually does have a super-power. She's a shape-shifter. Imagine if Mystique of the X-Men franchise had given up fighting for what she believes in and just tried to make a few bucks off her ability.

Along with good and evil, power is another fascinating and debatable concept in this movie. More accurately, the debate is over whether or not it even exists and, if so, what should be done with it. The late great W.E.B. DuBois once said something that most of you reading this have attributed to Peter Parker's Uncle Ben. DuBois asserted that "with great power comes great responsibility." The idea has been drilled into us since Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2001). In regards to superhero flicks, it goes back even further than that, sitting at the core of nearly every one that's ever been made, including this one. What's a bit different, but certainly not unique, is that Sparks admits it is difficult to live up to such a lofty statement. People with great power are still just people. As for whether or not power exists, we see that it does. However, our protagonist makes it a deeply personal question because he doesn't know if it exists within him.

One of the missteps the movie makes is that it telegraphs the answer to the power question too far in advance. It robs us of much of the mystery needed to sustain our care in that part of the plot. It does a better job maintaining that mystery in regards to who all the heroes and villains are. The switching back and forth between genre styles, however, is not as fluid as it could be. This gives the film a herky-jerky feel in some parts and often renders one or the other less effective than it should be. Another detriment is that it often feels a little too derivative of other superhero flicks. Comparisons to Watchmen leap too easily to mind. Luckily, these issues are not enough to outweigh the positives. Sparks still manages to carve out enough of its own niche to be interesting and approaches its characters in a way that makes it downright intriguing.


  1. I love this: "What keeps Sparks interesting is that it subverts our intrinsic notions of just those very things, good guys and bad guys. It does so by playing with the idea that people will choose to be one or the other based on circumstance." Based on this -- and the strength of your whole review -- I may give this a go. Plus things like shapeshifters are just cool.

    1. Thanks for such a kind comment. Hope you do check it out because I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

  2. I have never heard of this flick, but am willing to give it a go. Not sure how my wife will handle the horror-vibe, but I'm going to assume she'll fall asleep long before we get there. Even if it's in the first five minutes.

    Great post, man.

    1. Please do. It fits right into your 90 minute time limit. Maybe your wife will even make it through with you.

  3. I've never even heard of this Dell, is it an indie? The Watchmen comparison intrigues me as I quite like that movie, though it seems that this one is a lot less dark and made w/ a smaller budget. Might have to give this a shot, esp since it's not a long movie.

    1. It is an indie and definitely has a much smaller budget than Watchmen. I'd argue it's a fairly dark movie, but on a personal level as opposed to a global one. Hope that makes sense.