Ryan Reynolds is the go-to guy for superheroes right now, thanks to his roles as Deadpool and Green Lantern. But his performance as Captain Excellent in Paper Man, opening wide today? You can skip that. Really. Spoilers ahead.
Paper Man has been in some festivals, I think, and had a limited release back in April. But it's opening in more markets today, and the "Ryan Reynolds playing a superhero" factor might be enough to convince you to show up. Bad, bad idea.
The gist of Paper Man is this: Jeff Daniels plays a failed writer named Richard, who's probably supposed to be lovably neurotic but is actually just an annoying shit. Richard is on the outs with his frosty vascular surgeon wife, played by Lisa Kudrow, so he goes to a small town in the middle of nowhere to live in a cottage and work on his long-delayed second book. (Since nobody bought his first book, I'm not sure why the publisher is so eager to get the second one.) And then Richard meets Abby, a standard-issue disaffected but lovely teen girl, and they form... wait for it... an Unlikely Friendship.
In a nutshell, stock characters and standard out-of-the-box Sundance/IFC storytelling, with no spark or moments of genuine humanity. The main way our characters deviate from the standard recipe is the fact that they're so unlikable and impossible to care about - which is a daring choice, I guess.
Oh, and the Richard/Abby relationship is ultra-creepy, especially if you've just watched House Of The Devil. He invites her over to his remote cottage to babysit a non-existent baby, and she doesn't immediately leave when she finds out there's no baby, because apparently they don't have slasher films in her small town.
But what about the Ryan Reynolds superhero thing, I hear you asking? Sure. It's the most interesting part of the film, although it's not actually good. Reynolds plays Captain Excellent, who's been Richard Dunn's imaginary friend since Richard was a little kid. He never quite let go of his imaginary friend, who gives him advice that he ignores, and motivates him to be awesome by reciting a cheesy cartoon intro about how Captain Excellent will save the day.
Because Captain Excellent is intentionally campy, and Reynolds does have fun being the silliest version of a superhero he can possibly manage. There are a handful of scenes in which Reynolds gets to induldge his flair for physical comedy, and the movie sputters to life. He gets to be snarky occasionally. But the campiness gets a bit much after a while, and any awesomeness Reynolds might possess gets lost because he's saddled with Daniels' loser character. Still, it might be worth renting this film if you see it in the dollar rental shelf, just so you can fast forward to the two or three great bits Reynolds has where he's being Hobbes to Richard's Calvin.
And the film pulls a weird twist with Captain Excellent towards the end, which I won't spoil here but which pushes the "imaginary friend" thing a bit closer to the realm of real fantasy or science fiction. And the moment where we find out the truth about Captain Excellent is also the only moment in the film where Reynolds gets to do some real acting, and he is amazing. Really, that's the one scene where you can see why Reynolds is in such demand to play real, iconic, awesome superheroes — the kind that Captain Excellent isn't.