'Griff the Invisible': Lighthearted, Romantic Vigilantism

Directed by: Leon Ford, Runtime: 90 minutes
Grade: B-

I suppose we've reached the point where a subgenre has emerged from the "everyman superhero" idea. It makes sense, considering the recent surge of popularity towards Batman (the pinnacle of the no-superpower hero) and the adaptation of Mark Millar's subversive comics to the big screen, that differing perspectives on what comprises an effective examination of aggrandized, pushed-to-the-limit vigilantism would stake their ground. They all have their strengths, from Kick-Ass's candy-coated violence and Defendor's shocking dramatic streak to the down-and-out nasty fury of James Gunn's Super, as well as areas where they slave away at filling in gaps where the others neglected. The fresh ground that Leon Ford's Griff the Invisible adamantly tries to explore is that of romance and returning to normalcy in a contorted, introverted hero's mind, while retracing the same weatherworn tracks that others of its kind have already traveled. Good intentions go a long way with this one, though.

Even though True Blood star Ryan Kwanten tries to prove otherwise, we've seen the likes of Griff before: a submissive, recoiled, socially-awkward office monkey, not unlike Wesley from Wanted, moonlighting as a costumed night-watchman who looks strikingly like Tim Burton's Batman in a riot helmet. With his apartment planted in the dark corner of a city overrun with vandals and prowlers, Griff pours the money he makes at his dime-a-dozen cubicle job into his "true" profession, where he's orchestrated an elaborate camera, telescope and alarm system (Harry Caul would be proud) to monitor the area and notify him that "Griff the ______" (he's working on that) is needed. Some seem to know about Griff's secret identity, though, such as his caring brother who moved back to the area to keep an eye on him, supposedly after a run-in with the law. And another might've stumbled onto his secret: Melody, an "experimental researcher" dating his brother, who might be just as imaginative, idealistic, and potentially unhinged as Griff.

Balancing vivid color use with the thick and gritty allure that comes from shooting on 16mm film, Griff the Invisible stands out among others of its type with a distinctive, albeit modest aesthetic perspective, the vibrant palette painting Griff's war on street-level hooligans with broad comic-inspired strokes. It heightens the environment around the hero to appear like he's encapsulated in dire situations as they'd appear in the panels of a graphic novel, counterbalanced against the sterile, empty look befalling his work environment, reflecting on his emptiness while going about his unhappy "real life". Director Ford minimizes the action to emphasize the ways that Griff copes with balancing the two sides of his life, even though he does execute a few low-key action set pieces that reveal the hero's no joke. Even down to his crime-fighting toys and his suit, clearly (and suggestively) inspired by a certain famous Caped Crusader, careful thought lingers in the budgeted but appealing look of Griff's heightened-reality world.

Yet, when it comes to the challenging components surrounding explorations of the do-it-yourself superhero -- their loosening grasp on reality, a disconnect with society, and the legality of what they're doing -- Griff the Invisible mines areas that have already been tapped by its recent predecessors, only in a glib, easier-to-swallow, yet admittedly charismatic fashion. Even if that's the case, director Ford commits to making them feel individual to Griff's story, exploring the mindset of this particular cubicle-dweller who finds purpose in making the streets around his apartment safer. Granted, the story's fairly anemic, a more blithe pastiche of its precursors that semi-humorously follows the same beats, whether we're talking about Griff's psychology or his invigorated uprising in the real world due to his off-the-clock activities. Considering that, there's still something to be said about Ford's perspective on the hero, alongside some of the complexity behind introverted, slightly-off citizens going about normal lives.

Turns out, Griff the Invisible isn't about saying something regarding the vigilante nature, but in a decidedly sweet-natured romance blossoming within it, and how a pair of askew minds counterbalances one another despite their distorted view of the world. Through a handful of scenes that might faintly remind one of the fingerprints that Michel Gondry could leave, creative and inventive but practical in their usage, director Ford takes the skeletal structure it establishes and fleshes it out with the off-kilter, quirky relationship between the deceiving superhero and an attractive corner-shop researcher who has an eye for his obscurity. Pure charm -- alongside an infectiously chaste chemistry that stirs in the conversations between the discomfited Griff and the resolute, science-minded Melody -- becomes the glue that latches the film's components together, especially with the bold, accepting personality Melody brings to the conversation.

Despite its spotty successes, and even considering the adult-minded twist of a climax that the film arrives at, Griff the Invisible is a tough one to pin down. Those weathered to the subgenre will find less brutality, gloom, and provocative content than they're accustomed to, while those drawn into in its defiantly indie-film romance will still have to juggle its scattered focus and a stale narrative that smacks of an overdose on influence. Down to the way the film's presented in marketing, it's sizing itself up for an audience that it's not likely to satisfy, but Leon Ford's viewpoint has one watertight attribute going for it: it's stubbornly likable, from the polished look to the unswerving performances from Ryan Kwanten as Griff and Maeve Dermody as Melody, and in that, it's wholly reasonable to embrace this as the subgenre's romantic-comedy riff -- roughly realized as it may be. A touch of sincerity and a touching, gracefully-built purpose give it reason enough to coexist among its like-minded contemporaries.

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