"Sparks," the indie film based on the 2008 graphic novel by Christopher Folino — is a great example of how creativity can make a movie come alive. In financial terms, "Sparks" is a 98-pound weakling. But it holds its own against most superhero films.
This is the tale of a young masked man, Ian Sparks (Chase Williamson), trying to avenge the death of his parents (a common comic book theme). He soon learns the harsh realities of fighting crime when his partner, Lady Heavenly (Ashley Bell), is brutally attacked by a mysterious villain known as The Matanza Killer.
Folino, who served as both co-director and writer, shows a deft skill in using light and dark like another character in the movie. His stylish approach to each scene shows influences of Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City") and Zack Snyder ("Watchmen") as played out with touches of film noir.
The story resonates with the same grittiness as a Frank Miller tale. The movie, set in the 1940s, is closer to "Watchman" than "Superman" in tone as these heroes live in seedy motels, deal with real life issues and learn not everyone can dodge bullets.
The directors use the elements — especially what seems like an endless rain — to give each scene a dark and interesting texture. It's a perfect look for the kind of throwback story Folino is trying to tell.
The compelling visual elements are important to cover up some of the acting weaknesses.
Williamson doesn't bring the kind of charisma or strength to the title role that's necessary to make viewers root for the hero. Bell's performance as Lady Heavenly is also a little wobbly.
But the two leads get help from a strong supporting cast that includes Clancy Brown, Clint Howard and Jake Busey.
Folino deserves a lot of praise for managing to make his self-financed movie look as good as most of the big-budget comic book inspired films. His kryptonite is a couple of weak performances by the main heroes, but overall "Sparks" shows plenty of cinematic muscle. It deserves a place among the legion of superhero movies.
"Sparks," not rated. Stars Chase Williamson, Ashley Bell, Clancy Brown, Clint Howard. Directed by Christopher Folino and Todd Burrows. Running time: 98 minutes. Grade: B
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.