In a land of dense forests, tall mountains, and serene landscapes, one boy attempts to turn the tide of his life around through his admiration for Steve Austin, the kitsch ’70s sci-fi superhero from the television show The Six Million Dollar Man. Donning the iconic red jumpsuit (or as close as the boy can get) he faces off against the playground bullies and controlling adults in his life. The banality of school life is certainly the key issue in The Six Dollar Fifty Man, but writer Louis Sutherland’s interest with this particular pop-culture icon adds fresh flavour from the oversaturated comic book hero market.
Jason (Sam Ahie) is a funny looking kid. Bug-eyed, unkempt hair, and altogether dishevelled appearance – Jason could be viewed as an easy target by the older bullies at his school. He isn’t going to let them get away with it as an angry fire burns in his eyes. If looks could kill these bullies would be dead several times over. His only other problem is the teachers at his school who seem to disregard Jason’s struggles and outbursts, only viewing them as uncontrollable acts of rage. With his golden yellow hair and colour-coordinated outfit Jason has a persona to hide behind but no power to enact his retribution.
We’re first introduced to Jason as he tests his ‘bionic’ powers in an attempt to impress an equally awkward girl from his class named Mary (Celina Russo-Bewick), by grabbing hold of an electrified fence with both hands. Simon Baumfield’s cinematography highlights raindrops that group together on the wire. A hand hovers above it. Grabbing the wire, Jason twitches as Mary counts to ten. A triumphant Jason then describes the many powers he (doesn’t) have – listing off such powers as the power to heal people, an ability to control people, and of course super speed. Mary indulges his fantasy as we begin to see a relationship blossoming. This childhood beauty is shortly undercut when two bullies appear from nowhere to tease him. Despite his much desired powers, Jason is a victim of his surroundings as his angst constantly leaves him in trouble with his dead-eyed teachers, whose imaginations faded years prior.
From the child drawn opening titles to the humble choral twangs of the soundtrack, The Six Dollar Fifty Man is an honest slice of pre-adolescent life in a depressing, diminutive town. It’s easy to fall into the pit of generic coming-of-age stereotypes, but Sutherland has found a way to show the origin story of a class clown turned superhero in his own right.