Superman III 4.19: Still About Bowling

And besides, what is Ricky supposed to get out of this incident? What lesson has he learned? What lasting advantage has been bestowed upon him?

The problem that Clark Kent, alias Superman, is supposedly trying to deal with is that young Ricky here is being bullied by his classmates. They don’t want him on their bowling team, for a very good reason: the kid has no skills, and brings nothing to the organization.

If the miraculous intervention on Ricky’s behalf makes it appear as if he has suddenly and temporarily acquired an inhumanly destructive right hook which blows bowling pins to fragments, then what? Even if this moment of triumph, which he did not earn and does not deserve, imbues him with masterful confidence heading into his next time at-bat, he still sucks at bowling and that deficit has not been corrected.

And as for the bullying, if you think that the only problem the other kids have with him is his bowling skills, then you need to take another close look at Ricky.

“I just can’t stand this,” sighs Ricky’s mother, referring to the afternoon group activity that she has apparently delivered him to. She has just tied his shoes for him in front of the other boys, and if Ricky can’t tie his own shoes at this age, then that is a fundamental problem that even Superman can’t correct.

“Oh, Lana, it’ll be okay,” says the alien space god. “Believe me, I know, I was a late bloomer myself.” This is only comforting if Ricky has a private ice palace to hike to that will confer upon him a special genetic destiny, which does not seem likely.

“Well, it’s not just that he’s small for his age,” Lana replies. “How would you like to be the only kid in town without a father?” Which is… wait, what? Is it possible that in 1983 Smallville, the Langs are the only couple in a generation that have gotten a divorce? I feel like the entire corpus of American country and western music would indicate otherwise.

Also, as Lana well knows, Clark Kent was the only kid in town without a father, so that’s a very insensitive thing to say.

Also: what is this scene about?

If the scene is trying to say that Clark would be a better stepfather for Ricky than Brad would, then it doesn’t really do that, because, as I said earlier, Brad is actually trying to help the kid, and anyway, that’s not the storyline of this movie. This isn’t a love-triangle competition for Lana’s hand; Lana dislikes Brad on sight, and Clark isn’t really pursuing a romantic relationship with her.

If it’s trying to interest us in Ricky and his emotional well-being in order to give strength and purpose to his late-movie intervention with Dark Superman, then it’s not doing that, either. If you want to interest the audience in a new character, then the procedure is to make a friend, make a joke and make something happen, and Ricky is not accomplishing any of those goals. Ricky has no friends, he isn’t funny, and we don’t even hear him talk; the kid doesn’t get a single line in the whole sequence.

In fact, what this scene establishes is that Ricky is a hapless nonentity buffeted about by fate, just a pawn in a passive-aggressive dick-swinging contest between the town drunk and the strongest man in the world.

And it’s not like Ricky’s problems start and end here at the bowling alley. As we’ll soon learn, in another sequence that reduces him to a passive victim of circumstance, Ricky can’t even run across a wheat field without knocking himself unconscious, which means he’s going to have a tough time surviving childhood in a town made up mostly of bowling alleys and wheat fields.

But the important question, which we will return to later on, is: Why does this movie hate Smallville?

Tomorrow:
4.20: The Coming of Gunn


Footnote:

Ricky is played by Paul Kaethler, in his one and only screen credit. I could not discover a single other fact about him in my admittedly not very extensive search.

Tomorrow:
4.20: The Coming of Gunn

Chapters

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Superman III 4.19: Still About Bowling

    1. Oh, God, the “natural” thing. Almost always a mistake.

      I get the producers wanted to not have a glib, perky “actor” kid, but usually non-performer kids stick out a damn MILE because they have no sense of rhythm or ability to connect with their scene partner–those are real skills. There are exceptions, like David from Dark Shadows or the kid from Children of the Damned and The Innocents, but SIII needed a modern day loser, not a precocious genius.

      Glad little Ricky went on to a happy life of engineering (presumably.)

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I really do wonder what the writers were thinking when they wrote this scene. How does Superman help Ricky by making him an incredible one-time bowler, never to repeat this feat again? If I were to analyze the scene as if the characters were real people, I would say that it reveals Superman to be a pathological liar.

    Think about it: he grew up hiding his powers, and continues to do so as an adult. He even has a superpower for making people forget things, in case he slips up. He plays the role of a bumbling nerd with a made-up background that includes being a “late bloomer”, and he does so very convincingly. His whole life is built on an edifice of lies that he produces without hesitation. He probably doesn’t even know when he’s lying anymore. Thus, he thinks that any level of deception in the moment is justified and can’t possibly have consequences down the road, just like a pathological liar would.

    That’s what I would conclude if he were a real person, at least. It’s harder to figure out the thought process of the actual people responsible for the script.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. If this were the kind of movie that could really stand up to analysis, I’d say this scene is about how Smallville makes Clark revert to his childhood self, and how he sees that in Ricky.

      Young Clark had to be a bumbling dipwad to hid his God-level gifts, but that didn’t make it any more enjoyable to endure–as you point out, he thinks like a pathological liar, because that’s exactly what he had to be, every minute of every day! Of course he’s going to revert to old patterns the second he sets foot in his formative town.

      When he sees little Ricky stumbling around, overly mothered/protected and scorned by his peers, he not only empathizes, he becomes what he couldn’t be then: a protector that uses his powers the way a kid–short sighted, focused only on the immediate present–would. He blows on the ball and Ricky is momentarily transformed into a winner, a real A Number One Cool Kid. Because that’s what’s important in that particular moment. The past chokes you like a collar, the future is more of the same, so all you can change is the now.

      That this probably won’t help Ricky in the long run is immaterial (and hey, who knows? The infusion of confidence may get him over that hump of “I’ll never be any good” and start attaining actual ability) in the face of a moment of glory.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I think you and Danny both spent more time thinking about this scene than the writers did. What you describe may have been the original intent–to show that Clark, identifying with Ricky, attempts a wish-fulfillment redo of his childhood where he could use his powers to become the cool kid– but what Danny describes is what we got–a clichéd situation to set up Lester’s jokey visuals.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Maybe the other divorced dads in town are still involved in their kids’ lives and only Ricky’s dad totally bailed?
    This is the most time I ever spent considering anything about this character. Now I feel kind of sorry for him, with his absent father, over-protective mother and general ineptitude.
    I still laughed out loud reading this, though.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah, this was a great sentence: “Ricky can’t even run across a wheat field without knocking himself unconscious, which means he’s going to have a tough time surviving childhood in a town made up mostly of bowling alleys and wheat fields.”

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Is Brad THE town drunk? There shouldn’t be just one in Smallville, as “the entire corpus of American country and western music would indicate otherwise.”

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Some people are born losers. It doesn’t matter how smart or strong or well supported they are, they will never catch a break.

    In this scene we see what might have been Ricky’s one claim to fame. Clark is giving him one thing he can carry with him all his life–a win. Ricky saves the world later on, but he’ll still work in the hardware store all his life.

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  5. But what if Ricky really does have an ice castle somewhere? That he’s an alien child that Clark is basically checking up on and make sure he and his mom are OK. That would be why he was interested in her life, but not in a long term relationship with Lana? They gave us 0 indication of this & I’m pretty sure the writers never thought of it, but if Ricky’s type of alien only bloomed later on he could be another superhero who could be SORASed up for when they couldn’t talk Christopher Reeve to come back anymore.

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