Cinema Enigmatico…Italian for Obscure Cinema! I find the films that are either forgotten or little known, and let you know about them! This week’s installment is a newer film based on a 70s kids’ show!
Electra Woman & Dyna Girl (2016)
Why am I choosing a film from 2016, you ask? Well, this review column is about obscure stuff…stuff you probably didn’t know was out there and this one certainly qualifies! Based on the Sid & Marty Krofft 1976 TV show, this new version began life as a series of shorts that were eventually put together in a feature film format, and released on DVD in June of 2016. The original series starred Diedre Hall and Judy Strangis as Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, a crime-fighting duo in the style of Batman and Robin who worked with scientist Frank Heflin to combat crime. Diedre went on to a lengthy career as Dr. Marlena Evans on the soap opera, Days of Our Lives.
Fondly remembered by many, this series was re-imagined in modern times and released as a TV Mini-Series starring Youtube personalities Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart in the titular roles. In this version, Frank Heflin is not a scientist, but rather a promoter of superheroes. In a world where most supervillains have been wiped out, and mostly un-powered heroes continue to patrol the streets, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl manage to stand out in the crowd after one of their exploits turns them into Internet sensations. Lured from Akron, Ohio, to Los Angeles by Frank with the promise of becoming big-time superheroes (complete with corporate sponsorship and more), the dynamic duo find themselves in over their heads, and at odds over what direction their lives should take.
I have to say, I went into this expecting the usual direct-to-video dreck that comes out these days, and was pleasantly surprised at how engaging and fun the film is! I didn’t know that it was originally a series of shorts until I sat down to write this review, and that fact explains the pacing of the film. While not exactly uneven pacing, it definitely has “vignette” feel to it, but each situation feeds into the next quite naturally. There was obviously a large budget in place here, and visually the film works quite well with a nice color palette that’s dark, but allows the vibrant colors to stand out. It’s not so much a “dark” film in the Batman sense, but rather the contrast is higher than normal which gives it a rich tone. The special effects are also top notch lending and overall competency to the production.
Helbig and Hart fall quite naturally into the roles, and definitely sold the relationship. I foresee both of them going on to bigger and better projects! The relationship between the characters is what holds the film together. Helbig’s Electra Woman sees bigger things on the horizon for them and is constantly looking toward the future while not seeing what is going on around her. Her wide-eyed innocence works as she tries to make the best decisions for their future. Hart is hilarious as Dyna Girl is constantly insisting that she’s a “partner” not a “sidekick”. Dyna Girl is the one who (at least in her mind) is grounded in reality, and the one who invents the gadgets that they use to fight crime; but dismayed when the company creates better devices on a much bigger budget than her hardware store, homemade gadgets. And she’s not without her own issues: at one point Electra Woman calls her out on not being able to make a decision in a timely manner, and Dyna Girl can’t argue with the facts.
Christopher Coutts shows his comedic timing while portraying Frank Heflin. In the original series, the ubiquitous Norman Alden played the scientist Frank. If you watched a TV Show, cartoon, or movie in the 1970s, you saw Norman! Here, Coutts does a good job of re-interpreting the character as a money hungry publicist, who knows his job well and will do anything to get his clients ahead. One particularly funny scene is an homage to Airplane! in which he strikes a pose, and the picture of him on the wall behind him is the same exact pose!
While not knee-slappingly funny from beginning to end, the film does deliver in the joke department and I found myself laughing out loud more than once. If this had come out in the 1970s, it probably would have found an R-rating, although the graphic violence and language in the film is tame by today’s standards. It’s not overly gory, but there are definitely some scenes that I had not expected that were mostly played for laughs.
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl is a fun romp in the superhero playground and definitely worth a watch. Helbig, Hart and Coutts all give nuanced performances that show great talent just waiting to bloom. While the TV series was kitschy and tongue-in-cheek on purpose, this film manages to take the premise seriously while simultaneously pointing out the hilarity of the situations. Not what you’d expect, but extremely entertaining!