When Frank D'Arbo's (Wilson) wife leaves him for a psycho drug dealer (Bacon), his paralysing anger transforms him into DIY crime fighter, The Crimson Bolt. With his trusty sidekick, Boltie (Page), and a monkey wrench, he sets out to right society's wrongs and gain revenge on the man who stole his wife.
As catchphrases go, “Shut up, crime” isn’t likely to appear on T-shirts any time soon. In capturing The Crimson Bolt’s atrophied crime-fighting abilities, it’s pretty perfect though. Frank (Rainn Wilson) has an over-nuanced sense of right and wrong, grindingly polite, but matched with a zealous rage that causes him to go swinging a monkey wrench around with a terrible certainty that, if not silencing crime, then certainly makes its exponents roll around the floor screaming in pain.
He is a man on the edge, a short order cook with a beautiful if damaged wife (Liv Tyler). She’s a recovering drug addict who falls prey to Kevin Bacon’s local drug dealer, a Lothario who isn’t above testing heroin by injecting it into his latest flame’s foot. Heartbroken, Frank seeks solace in prayers and feels they’ve been answered by the arrival of an evangelical TV crimefighter called, naturally, The Holy Avenger. Given Frank’s already more deranged than any latter-day Batman — in a vision, God comes to him, unscrews the top of his skull and gently touches his brain with the tip of his enormous finger — it’s a small step to an ill-fitting red costume and bloody retribution with his weapon of choice.
Director and writer James Gunn’s tone is suitably gung-ho, the ultra-violence is almost matter-of-fact while still hard to watch. At one point, the seemingly docile Frank is outraged by someone pushing into a line for the cinema, strides off to his car, changes into his costume in front of a bemused queue of people and cracks the patron’s skull almost in half before smashing the queue jumper’s date in the face too. It’s bleak, harrowing and hilarious, all in a scant 30 seconds. Wilson is electrifying as the put-upon Frank, one moment docile and benign, the next a spitting, ferocious man who’s simply had enough. Though his zeal for revenge is nothing compared to his over-emotional sidekick, comic book store clerk Libby (Ellen Page) who transforms herself into Boltie, a short-fused screamer who cackles with delight each time they take revenge on a miscreant. Like Wilson, Page is ideal, like a lost character from Kick-Ass. The final set-piece, at a remote mansion, is on a blockbuster scale, surprising given the indie feel right up to that point. It’s raw and enigmatic; the very human outcome of acting like a superhero. An upbeat ending of sorts that’s so hard to come by.
A brilliant twist on the everyman crime-fighter genre, as violent and human as it is funny.