Sparks is certainly an unconventional comic book movie and considering the shoe-string budget and lightning speed schedule, it’s not a half-bad little flick with two solid performances from Chase Williamson and Ashley Bell. The DVD release offers adequate video and audio transfers while the bonus material is mostly forgettable.
Genre(s): Crime, Action, Fantasy
RLJ Entertainment | NR – 98 min. – $27.97 | March 18, 2014
THE MOVIE – 3.5/5
Sparks is based upon a graphic novel created by Christopher Folino and from what I can tell, not very well known property, thus to get an adaption onto the big screen, Folino and family apparently entirely financed it and honestly, they did a half decent job considering the budgetary constraints they must’ve been under, including a 12-day shoot.
The story opens in the year 1920 in Rochester, New York where a young boy is fearful of something a man, we later learns is a serial killer known as Ring Master Jesus, is hard at work into a farm house. As he’s about to be confronted by his wife, a meteor shines through the sky landing in town killing dozens but exposing radiation to a select few who garner some sort of super powers (like in the show “Smallville”), one of whom was Ring Master Jesus.
Fast forward 28 years later where we find a man, limping and being pursued by police as a copycat killer, named Ian Sparks (CHASE WILLIAMSON), making his way to the Daily Chronicle where he relays his life story, and the events leading up to that night, to the paper’s editor-in-chief (CLINT HOWARD). It’s at this point we get a flashback, and a flashback within the flashback recounting a terrible car accident when the car he and his parents were riding in got rear-ended into a train, flipping over and chemicals spilled out from one of the train cars. His mother and father are killed but he’s rescued by a police officer named Archer (CLANCY BROWN).
Ian goes to live with his grandmother and, years later and with the growing number of vigilantes around the world cropping up, Ian takes it upon himself to don a costume and mask, made by the grandmother, and fights local bullies. When he moves to the big city, the thugs get tougher and he takes more lumps fighting but receives help from the beautiful Lady Heavenly (ASHLEY BELL) who wears spandex and kicks all sorts of ass, what’s not to like? There’s also another superhero named Sledge (JAKE BUSEY) who helps out. Soon enough they’re fighting crime side by side with the Lady taking on the heavier toughies while Sparks tackles the leftovers and they make the perfect team and later, a wonderful couple.
But all good things must come to an end. When Sparks and Heavenly come across a gruesome crime scene with multiple murders at the hand of a villain known as Mantanza (WILLIAM KATT) and when they track him down to his lair in the sewers, Sparks blacks out while Heavenly is tortured. When he awakens, Heavenly has been saved by Slegde and in the process kills Mantanza in the strangest way… by putting him in a fire. Trust me, when you see it, it makes no sense. But Heavenly and Sparks’s relationship sours, losing all respect believing he coward in the corner as she was brutalized.
Sparks soon goes into a tailspin culminating with an attempted suicide in his crummy apartment but somehow he survives and is taken to the hospital to be treated when a man we later learn to be Archer injects him with the same red liquid that washed over him as a child during the car crash. Sparks makes a miraculous recovery and eventually Archer introduces him to two super humans: Cain (ESTEBAN CUETO) with the power of fire and Dawn (MARINA SQUERCIATI) who can transform herself into anybody she has touched. Soon Archer reveals the true culprit of Sparks’ parents’ death, a part reptilian creature whose men, while being chased by the police, crashed into the car, etc. etc. Now this team of misfits band together to exact revenge.
In the meantime throughout all of this, and one of the better moments in the non-fighting scenes, finds Sparks and Dawn forming a relationship but rather than making love to Dawn, she transforms herself into Heavenly and you get the rest of it. The plot goes further with some twists and turns, but I’ll leave the rest out as there are some decent twists and a pretty good finale all things considered.
The performances in Sparks is mostly good headlined by Chase Williamson most recently seen in John Dies at the End; followed by Ashley Bell of The Last Exorcism movies, performing some fine fight scenes; and Clancy Brown as Archer, Sparks mentor.
I’m kind of split on Sparks as one has to respect what the filmmakers, who presumably had limited experience, were able to have a production shoot of only 12 days, some OK visual effects albeit some of it can be shoddy – though others fed into the film noir look I assume the directors were after (not unlike The Spirit) – and a small budget financed by the graphic novelist (plus friends and family) himself. You take all that together and you have a passion project that for once pans out as being fairly entertaining, a story that does not follow comic book plot conventions and fine performances from Chase Williamson and Ashley Bell. No, it’s hardly great yet this film still managed to keep my attention through the end.
In the end, it’s not a bad picture and I can only imagine what could have been done on a larger budget and more talent in front of and behind the camera, but as it stands, Sparks is at least worth a look as it’s not a conventional comic book movie, breaking the mold.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.0/5
The DVD comes with a matted, title-embossed, slip cover.
Audio Commentary – Executive Producer/Actor William Katt, Writer/Producer/Co-Director Christopher Folino and Co-Director Todd Burrows sit down for a dry yet still informative commentary track providing some tid-bits about the film.
The Making of Sparks (3:39) is a short behind-the-scenes featurette that doesn’t delve that much into the background, unfortunately.
Outtakes (0:58) contains two alternate takes.
VIDEO – 3.75/5
Sparks jumps into the fray of DVD courtesy of RLJ Entertainment presented in 1.78 anamorphic widescreen which looks fine with your usual bouts of pixilation, though given the budget, it does look better than expected.
AUDIO – 4.25/5
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is strikingly robust with loud and intense audio for the action/fight scenes as well as spotlighting the score. If I only had one complaint, it would be it could’ve been more evenly distributed even if it is only DVD. Still, it’s an impressive track.
OVERALL – 3.0/5
Overall, Sparks is certainly an unconventional comic book movie and considering the shoe-string budget and lightning speed schedule, it’s not a half-bad little flick with two solid performances from Chase Williamson and Ashley Bell. The DVD release offers adequate video and audio transfers while the bonus material is mostly forgettable.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman