Review: A Personal Shortcoming Leads to a Movie Long on Comedy in Brian Spitz’s “Unhung Hero”

Although there’s never a chance to properly verify the size of Patrick Moote’s penis, the main subject of “Unhung Hero,” there’s no question he’s got huge balls. As early as the first scene of his self-proclaimed “cockumentary,” he sees his manhood threatened by a needle containing a yellow substance he’s been told will enlarge his genitals. We learn soon enough it isn’t the first time he’s put his penis in danger for a chance to make it bigger, but Moote believes such desperate measures must be taken after his marriage proposal, the kind that’s televised in front of the crowd at Pauley Pavillion during a UCLA basketball game, was rejected with his would-be fiancee telling him it was because he wasn’t big enough in the britches.

Even if the video of his failed proposal hadn’t gone viral, you’d quickly figure Patrick to be *that guy* who’d want to get down on one knee on a jumbotron. In that sense, “Unhung Hero” feels as if it’s less of a piece of nonfiction than it is an opportunity for Moote to rewrite his life’s narrative, both personally and professionally. He may well have been devastated by the rejection of his girlfriend, but as an actor who’s scored bit parts on sitcoms, you get the sense he also probably didn’t mind the 10 million hits the proposal video received, either. That doesn’t make him wrong to assemble his friends to make a film, yet it does make his journey across California and eventually onto Korea, Taipei and Papua New Guinea investigating societal beliefs about size feel a bit inauthentic at times.

Yet whatever Moote’s motives are in exposing himself to such potential embarrassment, “Unhung Hero” is scabrously funny if you take the bait. From those squirm-inducing opening moments to equally uncomfortable conversations with his parents about why he was dumped, Moote uses his personal heartbreak as a springboard to interview people off the street and visit various penis experts including urologists, penis pump makers, porn stars and condom manufacturers to find his place in the size spectrum. What he hears is largely contradictory, though his discovery of a $5 billion industry dedicated to penis enhancement products that thrives on such diversity of opinion and lack of actual fact reinforces “Unhung Hero”’s reason for being.

Moote makes for a more than amiable guide into this sordid world. While he doesn’t force his personality on the audience with quite the same zeal as Morgan Spurlock has in the similarly lighthearted “Super Size Me,” he does prey on their sympathy with an impish grin and a pro comic’s practiced charm, exuding naivete that make his reactions to every strange encounter with those who claim they can make his penis bigger by lifting weights with it (the Korean practice of Qigong) or massaging it (“jelquing”) priceless.

Whether it’s real or not is a question and as “Unhung Hero” wears on and Moote begins to consider enlarging his endowment in more serious ways than Extenze pills and oddball exercises, his personal connection to the subject, which is the film’s greatest asset at first, threatens to become its greatest liability since the story mechanics start to show. For all the goodwill Moote builds up during the course of “Unhung Hero,” the three-act structure forces developments at the end that aren’t nearly as satisfying as they should be since it reeks of editing room maneuvering than a story taking its natural course and some hidden camera sequences seem too good to be true.

Still, “Unhung Hero” works far more than not as a crowdpleaser, optimized perfectly by director Brian Spitz to brazenly revel in subject matter that could either be too dryly medical or offputtingly raunchy and finds a sweet spot. Though it takes much longer for Moote to figure out than the audience, “Unhung Hero” is nothing to be ashamed of.

“Unhung Hero” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play SXSW again on Saturday March 9th at the Alamo Slaughter Lane at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 12th at 9:30 p.m. and Friday, March 15th at 4:15 at the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center.

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