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<i>Sidekick</i> at the CFF

Last night at the Canadian Filmmakers Festival I caught the Toronto premier of Sidekick - a Canadian superhero film. No beavers, no hockey, no geese - all Canadian.

Torontonians should get an extra kick from seeing TO finally play itself.

Sidekick tells the story of a mild-mannered IT-type guy, Norman (Perry Mucci), who discovers his coworker and all-around jerk Victor (David Ingram) has some unusual skills. Idealistic and comic book fan Norman decides that with a little pushing, Victor could really develop his skill and become the kind of superhero you can only read about.

This is set against the male-dominated, hierarchical corporate world, where Norman's crush Andrea (Mackenzie Lush) is struggling to move up from receptionist to a position of more authority and one better suited to her interest and intellect in spite of the blatant sexism of everyone around her.

I was really pleased to see that writer/producer Michael Sparaga chose to make Andrea a complex, modern woman rather than another Mary Jane (she's spunky and looks hot when wet!). There are essays to be written on the role of women in genre flicks, but now is not the time.

The script is the bright and shining star in this film - unlike a lot of superhero flicks that have fancy special effects to distract from plot holes you could drive a truck through and dialogue flatter than its two-dimensional characters, Sparaga (and his cast, with whom he workshopped the script for quite some time before production began) makes a point to have rich, three-dimensional characters with complex relationships while still respecting the allegorical nature of the genre.

As Chuck (Daniel Baldwin) the comic store owner says (in my favourite line) "It's not cliché, it's formula."

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Perry Mucci's Norman brings a boy-wonder, fresh-faced energy to the role. I found him slightly remniscent of Ferris Bueller (without the whole addressing the audience thing). Sparaga compared him to Ed Norton, and the similarity is striking. While Mucci doesn't have the potential heart-throbbiness of David Ingram as Victor, he certainly has a spark and verve that should carry him far.

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Ingram as Victor is charismatic and delicious - the evolution he undergoes under Norman's tutelage is subtle and fun to watch. I sat next to his aunt in the screening, and I have to agree with her observation that he is like a "young Colin Firth" - though with (I think) a richer voice. And, his aunt tells me, he's way nicer in real life than in the film, despite being a very convincing jerk. His line delivery is choice, too.

Andrea gets less screen time than the dynamic duo, yet Lush's portrayal grounds the film and really modernized the genre, out of everyone in the film, she's the 'in' for the audience.

The film does suffer from its budget (an ridiculously low 35K- Telefilm ponied up the same again to transfer DV to 35mm) - the lighting is as good as you can get from DV, which isn't fantastic. The impressive thing is that it doesn't distract - the acting, the story, and the sound design bring it to a filmic level. Is it perfect? No, but it does with a miniscule budget what crapfests like Fantastic Four can't do with millions - it tells a good story well.

Overall, I was delighted by it, and saddened to hear that Focus had bought the rights to remake it in the US - part of what makes it good is that it is a Canadian interpretation of a classically American genre. I hope Focus drops the ball, and that Sidekick gets the attention it deserves in it's current incarnation.

I spoke with Sparaga at Alto Basso at the Gala following the screening. Keep an eye out for my interview here (when I get back from work).


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