Michael Rappaport is a good character actor who usually appears in supporting roles. In Special, out now on DVD from Magnet films, he gets a rare chance to take the lead and makes the most of it. Rappaport plays the appropriately named Les, a lonely parking enforcement officer with low self esteem. He can’t bring himself to ticket anyone with a sob story, even when they’re obviously lying, and his only friends are two uber-nerd brothers who own the comic book store he frequents. Looking to make a change, Les enters an experimental study for a new confidence building drug.
Of course, drugs can sometimes have side effects worse than the conditions they’re meant to cure. In this case, those side effects are delusions which cause Les to believe he has super powers, including flight, telepathy, and the ability to walk through walls. Taking a cue from his beloved comic books, Les makes himself a costume using the logo for the drug he’s taking as his symbol, and sets out to fight crime. Although Les does foil at least one robbery, he also winds up assaulting several innocent people he mistakenly believes to be criminals. Some of these assaults are captured on surveillance camera and aired on TV with the drug logo prominently on display. Seeing this, the manufacturers decide they have to do something to stop Les before they get any more bad publicity.
This movie seems to be aiming for a Taxi Driver kind of vibe, with Les very much a kindred spirit to DeNiro’s Travis Bickle. Although Rappaport creates a compelling and believable central character, Special falls well short of the mark set by Scorcese’s film. What starts out as an indictment of the modern pharmaceutical industry with its “fix every problem with a pill” business model ultimately pulls its punches by portraying the drug company executives as ridiculous one dimensional villains. Further diluting the film’s impact is an attempt to insert a third act romance between Les and the quiet supermarket checkout girl he worships from afar, which feels forced and superficial. There are some good ideas here, but ultimately Special falls into the category of “interesting failure.” ** 1/2