Hero at Large
Hero at Large 1980
This was one of the first obscure movies that I wanted to watch during the first year of this site since it did have a theatrical release here in the United States even though I had never previously heard of it before. I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of it as the cover art featured John Ritter with his feet in a giant washbasin and his costume hung up in the background. What I got was a really heartwarming comedy about a struggling actor who wants to make a real difference. It’s rather far-fetched at times, but Ritter’s Three’s Company era charm really won me over even as he’s going after his across-the-hall neighbor with an almost stalker-level abandon. It also had an overwhelmingly late 70’s feel to it with some of the fashions and overall look to it, which makes sense as it did come out right at the beginning of the new decade in 1980. There was also one brief nod to Superman which had come out to great acclaim just two years prior.
The overall premise of the film is that Ritter plays a struggling actor who’s behind on his rent even with his side job as a cabbie. There’s a film that’s just being released called Captain Avenger and the studio hires a few dozen “actors” to wear the suits and go to various movie premiers. The movie is a big flop, but as he’s heading home Ritter stops by a local market, still in his costume but covered up with an overcoat, right as its closing to grab a half gallon of milk. While he’s there, a couple punks try to rob the place and he does some acrobatics and scares them off in full Captain Avenger attire. The next day it’s big news and just so happens to give a boost to the struggling film, so the execs try to capitalize on it and also work with the mayor and his re-election campaign in some capacity.
Ritter himself really is the best part of this film. This was right in the middle of his Three’s Company run and it’s easy to forget nowadays that he was a bit of a sex symbol back then. Here, he plays a “bodybuilder” type which apparently means that he’s as much of a bodybuilder as he is an actor. There are a few times where he’s shown doing exercises, though it’s always at the tail end where he only is seen doing one sit up or one pull up. He’s also very charming, especially with the interactions with his across the hall neighbor J, played by Anne Archer. It really is a great escalation of their relationship, as long as you overlook some of the incredibly stalker-like moments like when Ritter unexpectedly stops by her commercial shoot to try and share the good news about his heroic deed. But it’s a nice little touch that during the first half of the movie, they refer to each other only by their first initials as that’s how they know each other by the nameplates on their mailboxes. There is a bit of the typical plot where J is dating a bit of a jerk, and there’s a great moment where she finally tries to break up with him while Ritter is in the bathtub and he finally gets fed up and comes out wearing her pink bathrobe. There is a perfectly valid explanation as to why that gets set up the way it is, but it’s a little too much to get into right now. There’s also the typical moment near the end where she doesn’t want to get involved with him because he’s not right for her, though it was rather obvious that they would end up getting together in the end.
Overall, J is a rather interesting character. While Ritter is this struggling actor who has plenty of problems getting enough acting work to pay his rent, J is much more of a career woman working in Hollywood. It’s not exactly clear what she does aside from being some sort of production assistant in a commercial shoot for dog food. Though that was one minor issue that I had with the film where they were complaining about the eclairs melting, though most of the time commercials like that would use other foods or non-foods that wouldn’t melt under the hot lights. Her objection to the relationship is also not so much that she doesn’t like Ritter, but that he’s not right for her. She can tell that he’s someone that wants to take care of her in the old fashioned sense of the world, but she is much more of a modern woman that can take care of herself. There’s also a little bit of Nightingale syndrome where she takes care of him after his minor gunshot wound after he has been locked out of his apartment with no job and no other clothes besides his Captain Avenger costume.
As far as the mistaken superhero portion of the story, it also takes on some slightly unexpected twists and turns. There’s never really any big action setpieces. The biggest moment is around the middle of the movie right before he gets shot there is a bit of a car chase with him in his taxi cab. It’s also a great bit of physical comedy where he does confront the two criminals after crashing their car and they shoot him, he simply grabs his arm and collapses in the road without any real fanfare. There’s also the requisite plot later on where the movie execs are somehow working with the mayoral campaign, including Kevin Richardson playing a slightly more low key version of his UHF role as the mayor’s head of PR. They want him to continue his role playing as a real life Captain Avenger, only in more scripted events. He initially declines, but eventually agrees until the truth comes out at a mayoral rally where mob mentality is in full swing. The final scene is also a bit of a cliche storyline, but handled in a very heartfelt way where there is a building fire and Ritter goes in to save a kid where his mother is screaming “My baby! Won’t somebody please save my baby!”, and when it looks like Ritter is in danger himself, a couple members of the crowd brave the fire and go help him. There isn’t anything too revolutionary about this film overall, but what it lacks in substance, it makes up for in its heartfelt nature. Ritter and Archer give it their all and their relationship is really the best part of this film with all of their back and forth moments. The whole superhero angle isn’t played up as much as it could have been, and that’s actually a good thing. It was a fun little movie and more people should go seek it out. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.