- Movie Rating -

Hero at Large (1980)

| February 8, 1980

Hero at Large puts me in mind of something that I’ve always wondered.  What would happen in real life if Bruce Wayne decided to spend his evenings beating up criminals on the streets of Gotham City – I mean, without all the fancy equipment and over-inflated brute strength – just a guy in tights with a cause.  I suspect that it might happen much like it does for Steven Nichols in Hero at Large.  When he is grazed by a bullet one night, he confides to his neighbor “If they’re gonna use real bullet, I think I’ll retire.”  I don’t hear Bruce bellowing that kind of honesty

Of course, no good hero does anything without purpose, and for Nichols it isn’t for the greater cause of truth, justice and the American way, it is more insular – he likes the way helping people makes him feel.  Hero at Large recalls the do-gooder social commentaries made by Frank Capra, the story of a lonely New Yorker who dons the bright red outfit of a comic book hero named Captain Avenger.

Nichols is played by John Ritter, who was clearly trying to make the transition from television to features.  Had the movie succeeded with audiences, he might have been able to do both.  The story has him as a struggling actor who can’t seem to catch a break.  Captain Avenger comes into his life when he takes a gig dressing as the character for personal appearances, just to earn enough money to pay the bills.

One night, while still in the costume, Nichols foils a robbery at a convenience store and becomes a media sensation.  The PR manager who is handling all of the Captain Avenger appearances is Walter Reeves (Bert Convey) who is using the appearances as publicity for the upcoming re-election campaign of the city mayor.  When the robbery incident makes headlines, Reeves wants to put whichever actor was involved on the payroll to boost his candidate’s image.

The value of Hero at Large is that director Martin Davis (Lords of Flatbush) doesn’t push things.  He keeps the film at an even pace so that the material doesn’t fly all over the place.  Yes, there’s slapstick but it never feels hurried, and the characters are pleasant enough.  Ritter is seriously funny here as a guy who gets in over his head, and there’s a nice romance with his neighbor (Anne Archer) that doesn’t dominate the proceedings.

Ultimately, this a is a very nice, very funny comedy that isn’t out to change the world.  If Superman was a production the size of a metropolis, this movie is more like a nice, pleasant suburb.  It’s really like something Capra would have made, the story of a good guy trying to do good things in a world where humility is an endangered species.  As Steve puts it: “Don’t ever make little of what you’ve done, even in modesty.  It’s too important.”  Well said. 

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized