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Archive for Friday, July 8, 2005

Campy approach dooms ‘Fantastic Four’

July 8, 2005

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Its plot is stretched thin. Its creativity is nearly invisible. Its logic is rocky. And the whole enterprise goes up in flames.

Sue (Jessica Alba), left, Reed (Ioan Gruffudd), Ben (Michael Chiklis) and Johnny (Chris Evans) react to their newfound powers in "The Fantastic Four."

Sue (Jessica Alba), left, Reed (Ioan Gruffudd), Ben (Michael Chiklis) and Johnny (Chris Evans) react to their newfound powers in "The Fantastic Four."

Welcome to "The Fantastic Four," Marvel's latest and least impressive entry into its recent superhero adaptations. After delivering dandy versions of "Spider-Man" and "X-Men," the comic book kingpin takes a giant step backward with this big-screen bomb. It's worse than "Hulk" ... even worse than "Elektra."

You know a movie is in trouble when the biggest laugh comes after an individual walks into a room and says what she does for a living. The reason it's funny is because that profession is "director of genetic research" for one of the world's most prestigious companies, and the person saying it is 24-year-old Jessica Alba, who looks like she just got back from a shift pole dancing at a juice bar to pay off her student loan.

Alba portrays Susan Storm, who works for "larger than life" entrepreneur Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). She is recruited by Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), a nearly bankrupt scientist who also is her ex-boyfriend, to help him sublet Von Doom's space station for a medical experiment that could potentially benefit humanity. Together with Reed's astronaut pal Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Sue's extreme sports-obsessed brother Johnny (Chris Evans), the group sets up shop in space.

In a break from the comic book origin, Von Doom also is a member of the team, and he, too, is unexpectedly bombarded by cosmic rays that mutate the five into exaggerated versions of their own personalities. The rest of the film deals with how the characters cope with their newfound abilities and the accompanying fame that goes along with it.

Dubbed the Fantastic Four after they save a batch of New York City firefighters, the members also adopt flashier nicknames. Reed becomes Mr. Fantastic, Sue is the Invisible Girl, Johnny is the Human Torch, and Ben reluctantly becomes the Thing - reluctantly because, unlike his partners, he can't turn his powers on or off. Instead, he is left with a near invulnerable body that resembles skin made of lumpy orange rocks. His appearance frightens onlookers and gives him trouble performing the most mundane chores such as dialing a phone.

Movie
Fantastic Four * 1/2

Its plot is stretched thin. Its creativity is nearly invisible. Its logic is rocky. And the whole enterprise goes up in flames. Marvel Comic's latest and least impressive entry into its recent superhero adaptations comes across as hokey and dated under director Tim Story ("Taxi"), whose campy approach does the material no favors.

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Inevitably, the FF square off against the megalomaniac Dr. Doom.

There are many factors why it took nearly 45 years for the publication that launched Marvel's silver age rebirth to hit the multiplexes. This particular script (credited to a number of writers) took a decade to develop, and perhaps it's because of all of Marvel's signature characters, the Fantastic Four come across the most hokey and dated.

Unlike the X-Men, who seem more relevant now than ever, the Kennedy-era team never quite outlasted the 1960s. It's just hard for Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl to sound cool when compared to Pyro and Lady Deathstrike.

Even "The Incredibles" beat them to the punch by exploiting most of these same superpowers in a cinematic adventure. (Rumor is the new movie was dramatically re-edited so as not to mimic "The Incredibles.")

Maybe five years ago this same film might have seemed passable. Yet the ante has been upped in the superhero department, lately. It's not a question of budget or special effects - "FF" looks reasonably slick in that regard - but rather the talent at the reins of these films. Directors Bryan Singer ("X-Men"), Sam Raimi ("Spider-Man") and Christopher Nolan ("Batman Begins") are all A-list, award-winning visionaries who decided to try to breathe new life into a formulaic genre.

"Fantastic Four" is directed by Tim Story, the culprit responsible for last year's Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah comedy, "Taxi." He's a former music video director without a clue how to turn a comic book into live action.

Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) uses his flexibility to scale new heights in his battle against Dr. Doom in "Fantastic Four."

Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) uses his flexibility to scale new heights in his battle against Dr. Doom in "Fantastic Four."

Story tries to take the campy approach with the material - the same course that killed the Batman franchise in the '90s. There is little threat of danger or tension throughout the film, probably because there's no sense these characters actually exist. They're just repositories for one-liners and sight gags. None of the relationships manifests any weight, and the romantic "history" between the leads is laughable. (It's mentioned that Reed and Sue graduated MIT together, despite the fact there's about a 10-year age gap between the two.)

The rampant product placement alone is enough to suck one right out of the story.

An industry adage states that if you want to know what movie will be a hit, it's the one that has product tie-ins with McDonald's. If you want to know what will bomb, it's partnered with Burger King. Sure enough, "Fantastic Four" is tied to Burger King, and it's one whopper of a failure.

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