Fantastic Four

  Fantastic Four
"No, you see, you're invisible
and I'm stretchy and ...
crap, you're right ... it's lame."

© 2005, 20th Century Fox
All Rights Reserved

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In a last ditch effort to save his reputation, scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, "King Arthur") launches himself and his friends Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, "Cellular"), and rich project-backer Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon, "Nip/Tuck") into space to research cosmic rays. When the mission goes horribly wrong, and the crew is hit head-on by the rays, they return to Earth with new powers. Reed's body is now elastic, Johnny can turn into flames at will (dubbing himself "The Human Torch"), Susan can make force fields and turn invisible, and poor Ben finds his body is evolving into solid rock. As they struggle to return to normal, the team becomes the toast of New York City, where the media has dubbed them "The Fantastic Four" for their heroic efforts. However, Victor isn't pleased, and as his body slowly turns into metal and he becomes the nefarious "Doctor Doom," he plans to exact revenge on the mutant quartet, taking down anyone who dares to stand in his way.

Watching "Fantastic Four" (IMDb listing), a certain thought comes to mind: what in the heck were Marvel and 20th Century Fox thinking? "X-Men?" Smash. "Spider-Man?" Blockbuster. "Batman Begins?" Hit. And what do these films have in common? They took the superhero genre seriously, building a sense of heightened adventure while keeping the tips of their toes on solid human ground. But "Fantastic?" The production has thrown that aesthetic to hell and created a superhero comedy of the most offensive order. Oh yes, it's "Catwoman" bad.

Marvel's first mistake was hiring director Tim Story, the man behind the reasonable "Barbershop" and last year's disaster, "Taxi." The one thing "Taxi" proved is that Story hasn't a clue how to merge action and laughs. Now, handed a $100 million franchise-in-the-making, it's not a shock that Story doesn't even know where to begin with this material. "Fantastic" is a superhero movie in search of superhero things to do. The screenplay is basically an origin tale for the four heroes, and an incredibly dull one at that. The picture is stuck hopelessly in first gear the entire running time, with Story staging lethargic adventure sequences that bore the audience to tears, along with a distinct confusion on his behalf as to exactly when the fantastic four should become the Fantastic Four! Here's a hint: before that last 10 minutes, thank you.

This is pretty easy stuff, but Story bungles scene after scene, either going for nonstop slapstick and torturous pun laughs (just horrible puns too), or incompetently building the pace of his film in such a way that when it's over, the film feels completely unfinished. Trust me, it'll be hard to suppress the "that's it?" that tickles your throat when the end credits come. The film is just relentlessly unremarkable.

And speaking of the jokes, would you believe the film contains both "Priceless" and "You're Fired!" references? All integrity and genuine sillyhearted fun are thrown right out the window when a superhero film starts quoting ghastly Donald Trump television shows.

Story also fails a couple of his decent actors with his clown direction. Both Ioan Gruffudd and Michael Chiklis give the film a college try, but they can't stare down the rancid screenplay, and their special abilities are failed by the visual effects department, which make the notorious 1994 Roger Corman version (made for pennies only to extend a contract and never released) of "Fantastic" look like "2001" in comparison. Jessica Alba just looks lost, and she is the only member of the team with superpowers that are still questionable by the film's end. Chris Evan's portrayal of the Human Torch is the sorest point of the foursome, for the actor plants a lead foot on the character's obnoxious pedal, and never lets up. The performance becomes unbearable after mere minutes (along with his lame "xtreme" sports background), with the promise of more Johnny bringing on a migraine in place of goosebumps. And as the evil figure of the film, Julian McMahon sleepily embodies Doctor Doom, looking about as pumped to slaughter the Fantastic Four as I look when I have to mow the lawn. As the villain to end all villains, McMahon doesn't register in the least, and the film gives Doom little time to act on his impulses.

"Fantastic" reveals itself in the end to be merely a set-up for sequels to come, which might explain why the characters don't really explore their powers or teamwork until the final reel. Story undercuts the film even further by cleaving away characters and subplots along the way, most notably a blind girlfriend character for Ben (played by Kerry Washington), who accepts his deformed body without much of a fuss, suggesting many scenes between the two were deleted.

After all that has been accomplished with respectful and epic comic book adaptations, and in the face of the glorious flameout that was "Catwoman," why does a bitter pill like "Fantastic Four" even exist? What are these executives thinking? I guess "Fantastic" is really here to remind us all to see "Batman Begins" this weekend instead. Take the hint.

Filmfodder Grade: F

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