‘American Hero’ Can’t Find Much in its Interesting Concept

GameStop, Inc.

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The superhero movie is now a prevalent part of the pop culture landscape. Not only do these movies dominate the box office, but they dominate the conversation about movies across the internet. While most of the movies to populate this genre are concerned with well-established heroes with decades of mythology built as a foundation, there have been the few that have sprung of their own volition. The latest film to craft its own hero from scratch in an attempt to deconstruct and subvert the genre is American Hero, a film that plays like a mix between Hancock and Chronicle. But with all its good intentions and fairly interesting concept, Nick Love’s film can’t put all of its pieces together into anything more than an ambitious misfire. Everything in American Hero has been done elsewhere before, and done better.

Melvin (Stephen Dorff) is a down on his luck resident of New Orleans. He’s legally precluded from seeing his son and spends most of his time drinking heavily, chain smoking, and indulging in a potent cocktail of pills, week, and cocaine. His good buddy Lucille (Eddie Griffin), a paralyzed veteran from the first Gulf War, is typically by his side indulging in the same vices. But Melvin has one special thing going in his life – the ability to move objects with his mind. However, Melvin uses these powers to hustle a bit of money in the French Quarter as a kind of magic show. When his hard partying lifestyle causes a near-fatal heart attack, Melvin decides to clean up his act and use his powers for good. As he quickly learns, playing the hero can have consequences for those closest to you.

Writer-director Nick Love can’t find the right framing for his story with a mockumentary style that is wholly unnecessary. The real failing of American Hero is in the pacing. The film takes a tediously long time in establishing Melvin’s depressed state, with multiple party scenes to further emphasize his debauchery. It isn’t until nearly halfway through the film that Melvin has his moment of realization, then the film takes up a training montage. After that, Melvin confronts a local gangster who takes retribution out on Lucille causing Melvin to relapse with drugs and alcohol. The foes that Melvin faces, personal and external, just kind of happen. There’s little extra context to make these trials something that we ever doubt the character will overcome. Even worse, though, it makes the film a slog to sit through as you just wait for the next obvious beat to occur.

The lacking story is a shame because there is a real chemistry between Dorff and Griffin. However, neither actor is given is much to work as the dialogue is mostly devoid of wit, just a smattering of one-liners that fluctuate in their effectiveness. Those fleeting moments of natural interaction between the two leads only bring to light just how misguided the mockumentary format for this film was.

American Hero is a film that thinks it has a real edge to its material, but as the film drags on and on it becomes increasingly apparent that the edge is quite dull. Dorff and Griffin try their best with underwhelming material that is straddled with an ineffective framing device. In a week where I’ve been subjected to The Ridiculous 6 and Don Verdean, American Hero doesn’t stand alongside those woeful films, but it does nothing to stand out from the rest of the year’s mediocrity.

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