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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Forgettable Three
by John P. McCarthy

The original Marvel comic book may have been innovative, but with the exception of Chris Evans in the slam-dunk role of Johnny Storm, there's nothing new or exciting about this screen version.

The logo adopted by our friendly quartet of superheroes is emblematic of Fantastic Four's inability to seize the imagination. The encircled numeral 4 looks like it was designed for a local television station in a small, out-of-the-way market. The overall lack of pizzazz can be attributed to erratic execution by all crucial parties behind the camera and to the source material. Despite the longevity of the series, and the fondness many readers have for it, Stan Lee and company stocked Marvel's library with more exhilarating comics.

That judgment can be debated. What's beyond argument is that this interpretation doesn't deserve any glowing adjectives. Yet it doesn't warrant being trashed either. Spinning off a handful of vibrant special effects sequences and good jokes isn't enough, but the effort isn't cripplingly mediocre either. Fantastic Four travels down the middle of the road, giving junior and his parental escort the same modest amount of satisfaction.

Emerging from the theater, they might not remember Johnny Storm /The Human Torch's tag line "Flame On!" but they'll recall Evans, who made a fine debut in last year's compact thriller Cellular. Odds are he'll be seen again in the clumsily telegraphed sequel to this picture and -- if his energetic performance leads to choice roles as it should -- in other high-profile films.

Playing one of four astronauts launched into space to study a solar storm, the chiseled Evans has more fun than his three compatriots combined. Jessica Alba is passable as his sister Sue Storm/Invisible Woman, while Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic and Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing are forgettable. Casting Welshman Gruffudd as the over-analytic, elastic scientist Dr. Reed Richards was intended to lend gravitas, but backfires. He's bland; and Chiklis doesn't pop on the big screen.  

Reed has asked his former classmate and rival businessman Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) to fund the space trip which should yield scientific advances and cash. Von Doom goes along, and the prematurely arriving storm cloud alters the DNA of the five principles, leading to physical anomalies that pass for superpowers.

McMahon of TV's Nip/Tuck injects some camp into his semi-villainous part. Not a major feat when you get to deliver lines such as, "I think you know my Director of Genetic Research" when Sue enters. 

The major reason Fantastic Four feels rudimentary is that the conflict boils down to a schoolboy rivalry between Reed and Von Doom for Ms. Storm's affections. Von Doom's jealousy, combined with pressure from snidely officious bankers, results in a tiff when, back on Earth the titular quartet is holed up in Reed's lab trying to figure out how to reverse the effects of the radiation. 

The science has been lifted out of a home chemistry set--the hokey, dated sounding snippet "ETA until cosmic event" being one example. They don't run with the kitsch and the plot can't stand on its own. The most peculiar thread has Grimm being unceremoniously dumped by his wife when she sees he's been transformed into a rock-like ogre. No worries though, he hooks up with a blind woman from his local bar.

In the meantime, the four have become media celebrities. The public glare is harsh. "We're scientists, not celebrities," someone says, but more celebrity magnetism like the kind emanating from Evans is what's needed. The timid Reed is obsessed with calculating every variable. Not enough variables were taken into account when making Fantastic Four

(Released by Twentieth Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for sequences of intense action and some suggestive content.)

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