Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Super Sucker

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Jeff Daniels has given a lot of good and several great performances. He’s a Michigan homeboy: Born and raised here, he attended college at Central Michigan and gave birth to the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea (along with the Purple Rose Theatre Company and Purple Rose Films). His second directorial effort, Super Sucker, has a cast and crew peppered with Michiganders, and the movie was shot in Jackson. All of these are reasons to applaud Daniels and his commitment to our great state. The plot of Super Sucker, however, is not.

Daniels (who also wrote the film) plays Fred Barlow, a salesman for Super Sucker, a vacuum cleaner company he has adored all his life. Looking every inch the brown-suited, briefcase-carrying, pattering toady that we all imagine door-to-door salesmen to be, Barlow is the leader of a group of ragtag salespeople. He and his downtrodden crew harbor a vicious hatred for the other Super Sucker salesman in town, Winslow Schnaebelt (Harve Presnell), who outfits his workers in what appear to be uniforms salvaged from the last round of airline stewardess cutbacks. Schnaebelt and Barlow are involved in a sort of vacuum cleaner death match: Whoever sells the most Super Suckers in a month wins the exclusive sale rights to Johnson City.

Barlow tries his best to sell Super Suckers to the fair citizens of Johnson City, even taking a wannabe salesman with no mojo named Howard Butterworth (Matt Lescher) under his wing. Doors are repeatedly slammed in Barlow’s face — until he comes home one afternoon to discover his wife getting her swerve on with an ancient, discontinued Super Sucker attachment. You can imagine what happens from there: Barlow mass produces the attachment; housewives across Johnson City orgasm in unison, and a home-appliance version of Tipper Gore sets out to destroy him.

This is juvenile stuff (not a bad thing) and Super Sucker makes no bones about its meaning or pedigree (also not a bad thing), but there are only so many times you can watch a woman masturbate with a vacuum cleaner before the humor gets flat. Super Sucker won the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2002 US Comedy Arts Festival, which leads me to believe that 2002 was not a very funny year.

Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to


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