Damned considerate of Netflix to trot out this German “X-Men” knockoff just as the latest and perhaps last for a good long while Marvel “X-Men,” “New Mutants” is in theaters.
And damned sporting of Netflix not to stream “Freaks: You’re One of Us” LAST week, killing any reason for audiences to go to a quarantined cinema to be reminded of how played out that franchise and this concept — that there are “superhumans” among us, and they have to hide because we’re so afraid of them we’ll HUNT them — really is.
“Freaks” is practically a commentary on the whole sci-fi superhero genre. But as “German” and “comedy” are still tricky to park in the same sentence, it’s not the send-up of the caped comic-book characters it could have been. Without that, it’s entirely too cut-and-dried to add anything new to the “mutants among us” genre or the conversation.
Wendy (Cornelia Gröschel) was spotted as “special” as a child. We meet her, huddled in a corner of a school she’s just emptied and done major structural damage to, hiding out listening to Roxette on her portable CD player.
As an adult, Wendy is a working-class wife struggling to get by. She’s a cook at the service station diner (Chop Heaven Patio?), desperate for a promotion and hike in pay. Because she and security guard husband Lars (Frederic Linkemann) have a house they’re about to lose and a tweenage son to take care of.
Wendy is dismissed by her boss and ill-mannered customers, harassed by skinheads on her nightly walk home, and medicated at bedtime — four “little blue pills.” All that starts to change when a homeless guy (Wotan Wilke Möhring) tells her (in German, with English subtitles) “You’re one of us!”
Marek (Möhring) has answers that her lifelong shrink, Dr. Stern (Nina Kunzendorf) does not.
Throw those pills away, he pleads. “See who you really are.”
Wendy does, and we know without her saying, “There’s going to be some CHANGES around here” and every punk who crosses her or her bullied kid is about to get schooled.
And damned if a rich guy she works with, Elmar (Tim Oliver Schultz) isn’t “one of us,” too. Wendy has no idea what to do with her new strength, other than settling scores and getting some quick cash. Elmar’s into comic books. He’s in the mood for a caped costume. He’s hunting for a name.
“Ich bin ELECTRO MAN,” he says, which is sillier in German than it is in English, if that’s possible.
Gröschel, who got her start playing “Heidi” because of course she did, gives a nice working-class pluck to Wendy and takes a shot at giving her an internalized moral struggle over what she does with this “power.” That’s barely in the script, though.
Screenwriter Marc O. Seng (of Netflix’s “Dark”) has nothing new to say here, nor do his characters. The “What do we do with this power” question doesn’t automatically lead to “origin story” vigilantism. The villain is a tad too obvious, and the story arc borders on trite.
I like the way director Felix Binder keeps some of the Feats of Strength off camera, minimizing the on-camera violence.
But after “Chronicle,” after ALL these “X-Men” movies, every comic book superhero origin story put on film, anything less than a reinvention of the genre, or ridiculing of the whole film fad is just treading water.
Which is all “Freaks” ever does.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Cornelia Gröschel, Tim Oliver Schultz, Frederic Linkemann, Wotan Wilke Möhring and Nina Kunzendorf.
Credits: Directed by Felix Binder, script by Marc O. Seng. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:33