This is really the story of five individuals forever changed by a freak bombardment of cosmic rays while on a routine space mission. On the good guy side we have leader Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) the super-intelligent and highly elastic Mr. Fantastic; his former flame Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) also a scientist as The Invisible Woman; her brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) a hotrod pilot straight out of a Mountain Dew commercial as the Human Torch capable of transforming himself into a walking and flying ball of fire; and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) whose transformation into the nearly inhuman rock creature The Thing makes him the tragic figure of the group. On the bad guy side is Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) the sneering industrialist and scientist who bankrolls their mission and becomes the evil and aptly named Dr. Doom. Once this dysfunctional family figures out its powers--in a pile up on a New York City bridge for which they are largely responsible for in the first place--all that's left is one showdown with their cloaked and iron masked villain who has very little objectives besides killing off his business partners and exacting some revenge on the Fantastic Four. Despite the ingenious idea of portraying these costumed characters as celebrities first and heroes second the clumsy story fails to connect. It's a concept that should have worked especially with today's tabloid and paparazzi obsessions. But like the rest of the movie that idea fails to take flight. In other words other than defending themselves the quartet doesn't really have anything fantastic to do at all. Hmmm. Maybe comic-book movies are getting more realistic.
It's difficult and unfair to pin so much disappointment in a movie on its performers. Good actors often bear the brunt of a poorly made movie. In this case the actors aren't bad--they're just miscast. Gruffudd as their reluctant leader has neither the angst nor the gravity of the real Mr. Fantastic. Instead he's a charming fop. Alba is indeed beautiful but suffers from bimbo scientist syndrome which she must have caught from former Bond-girl Denise Richards who played a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough just as convincingly. Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon channeling Kevin Spacey is decent but is given very little to do. Only Chiklis and Evans shine here. Although they deserve every bit of credit they are the only characters the writers--and there were many--cared enough about giving them full-fledged personas. Chiklis captures the morose quality of the Ben Grimm even under a full-body suit which works better than photos suggest. It's more of a departure from his TV role as a tough cop in FX's The Shield than you might expect. And Evans (Cellular) gets all of the best lines in the movie especially when he insists that everyone should enjoy their powers instead of fighting them. Of course it helps if you can become a human firebomb and still look really good.
While not on the iconic level of Batman and Spider-Man the members of the Fantastic Four are integral to comics history. They're the first superheroes created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby and from the moment of their debut in 1961 they not only created Marvel Comics they were also already different from the ones that followed. The characters called each other by their first names and harbored no secret identities. They fought and bickered like any family. Now we have the big-screen version--and unfortunately although faithful to the intent and style of the comics the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Fantastic Four apparently languished for a decade in development so there is an unmistakable rushed feeling to everything. Not only does the film skimp on showing their trip to and from space but it also seems to have cleared out every other person except for the main characters who spend all their time talking only to each other. Other than the occasional small cheering New York City crowd or a brief appearance by Ben Grimm's blind love interest (Kerry Washington) where is everyone? And by opting for realism over sheer whimsy director Tim Story (Barbershop) seems to have fallen for another silver screen superheroes trap--the more realistic we try to make them the more unrealistic they become. It may have been best to leave Fantastic Four to the world of animation. In fact the best version of a family of superheroes--Brad Bird's The Incredibles--beat this movie into theaters by nearly a year.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action revisits an age-old Tunes question: Why does the affable Bugs reap all the fame and glory while the egocentric Daffy gets shafted again and again? Our duck friend quite frankly has had it up to his skinny neck playing second fiddle to the carrot muncher. All Daffy wants is a little recognition from the studio but the brothers Warner (actual twin brothers as we come to find out) decide instead to let Daffy out of his contract on the advice of their no-nonsense VP of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Bugs however knows they're making a mistake. Even though Daff bears the brunt of the abuse Looney Tunes would fail without him and Bugs convinces the powers that be they need the nutty mallard. If the plot had only followed this thread--perhaps showing Daffy on the skids--then maybe the film wouldn't have spiraled into Looneyville. Unfortunately Daffy ends up hooking up with the hunky D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) a studio security guard who finds out that his famous movie star father Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is really a secret agent hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey a supernatural gem that can turn the planet's population into monkeys. The evil head of the Acme Corporation Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) wants the diamond for his own diabolical plans and he's kidnapped D.J.'s dad in an effort to get it. Now the gang has to get the diamond save D.J.'s dad and of course save the world.
It might be a little hard to act subtly around cartoon characters but these aren't your ordinary cutesy Mickey Mouse types. Bugs Daffy Porky Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn are pros at comic timing able to spar with the best of them throw out zingers without a second thought and slay you with a droll glance at the camera. It isn't really necessary for the human actors to match their madcap-ness; just reacting would have sufficed. Fraser comes off the best of the human bunch; since he's had practice (Monkeybone) he easily interacts with his animated co-stars and deftly handles the doubletakes and jabs at pop culture. Elfman on the other hand sputters and goes bug-eyed every time she encounters silliness. She looks uncomfortable doing the green screen thing especially when she's trying to look natural when peeling a distraught duck from around her waist. Martin's highly anticipated turn as Mr. Chairman turns out to be the biggest disappointment. The over-the-top character is reminiscent of Martin's hysterically funny Rupert the Monkeyboy in 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but Martin turns Mr. Chairman--an angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair who never grew up--into a caricature of ridiculous proportions and unlike Rupert who came in small hilarious doses Mr. Chairman gets very tiresome very quickly.
Back in Action's animation is well done more engaging and ambitious than its 1996 predecessor Space Jam in which the action mostly took place in Looney Tunes land; here animated characters go the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? route and Bugs Daffy and the rest coexist harmoniously with humans in the real world. But despite its aspirations Back in Action leaves out vital elements that made Space Jam appealing. While the earlier film stuck to a simple plot Back in Action guided by director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers The 'Burbs) tries too hard to keep things wild and wacky while incorporating elements of '60s heist pics and action-adventure scenes and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids movie: the story. Tykes may have limited attention spans but if the story's good they will watch. Granted some individual bits are laugh-out-loud funny particularly the scene in the Warner Bros. commissary where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales while an animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo berate actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy as such a bonehead in the live-action Scooby-Doo. These scenes prove that if any cartoon characters could pass themselves off as real celebrities in the entertainment industry the gang from Looney Tunes could but moments like these simply can't overcome a contrived plot and juvenile antics.
Director Kevin Smith is known for his often explicit and political incorrectness films such as Clerks and Dogma. He knows his films often cross the line, but that's exactly his point in making them. He makes no apologies as his counterparts Jay and Silent Bob spew obscenities about religion, sexual orientation, women and the intricate details about smoking pot. It's the generation he is satirizing and their complete ignorance.
However, this time, Smith may have gone too far and now has to contend with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The organization has sternly criticized Smith's latest film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
"GLAAD views this film as being dangerous to the homosexual community," GLAAD entertainment media director Scott Seomin told The Hollywood Reporter. "Our concern is that this movie's target audience is young males, and it is so obviously homophobic."
The criticism has aggravated Smith to no end. He has posted a lengthy explanation on his official Web site and proudly points to his gay-themed film Chasing Amy and insists his new film makes fun of the young male culture who are "terrified of any cock that isn't their own."
Smith told Entertainment Weekly, "Am I going to lead the unenlightened to the Promised Land, and have male [audience members] running around sucking d---? No. But [maybe] a few will walk around more comfortable... I can't be held responsible for how stupid some people are."
Seomin's response is that "we feel it's important to voice our concerns both privately with Kevin and publicly through the media so that these issues can be discussed. This is not about Kevin Smith, who we know is not homophobic. It's about the movie he has made."
Smith agreed to meet with Seomin this week. During the meeting, Seomin suggested that to make amends, Smith make a donation to the Matthew Sheperd Foundation, whose mission is to educate the public on the dangers of homophobia. Smith readily agreed and wrote a check for $10,000 on the spot.
Yet, Smith wanted to emphasize that this donation was not a way of apologizing for the film but as an attempt to help out a worthy cause.
"What really burns me about all this, though, is that now my donation to the Matthew Sheperd Foundation is going to be sullied in the process... It is now being portrayed as an admission of some sort of culpability; that by giving $10,000 to this worthy cause, I'm essentially saying, 'I'm sorry I made some gay jokes,'" Smith wrote on his Web site. "I'm not sorry--because I didn't make jokes at the expense of the gay community."
GLAAD also has asked Dimension Films, which is releasing the film to make a contribution, but it has declined.
"We have, for years, been huge supporters of GLAAD and continue to support them, but we don't feel like this movie is homophobic in any way," Dimension senior VP publicity Elizabeth Clark told The Hollywood Reporter. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we stand behind this movie and are not going to apologize for it."
Smith has been attacked once before for one of his films--the 1999 Dogma--from conservative Catholic groups who staged protests outside theaters and urged people to boycott the film.
"I caught it from the right wing on Dogma, and now I'm catching it from the left wing on this flick," Smith continued on his Web site. "Which am I, people: a bleeding-heart liberal or a Bible-thumping conservative? And when the hell do I get to make a movie in which I don't have to explain myself afterwards?"
After being drugged by a rival earl French nobleman Count Thibault (Jean Reno)
murders his bride-to-be Rosalind Malfete (Christina Applegate) on the eve of
their impending nuptials. While awaiting his execution Thibault sends his servant
André (Christian Clavier) to fetch a wizard (Malcolm McDowell) who can send Thibault
back in time so he can undo the night's tragic events. The spell backfires and
sends Thibault and his sidekick into the future instead of the past straight
into a Chicago museum's exhibit of medieval artifacts in the year 2000. Thibault
soon realizes that the exhibit's curator Julia Malfete (Applegate again) is
his descendant 30 generations removed after semi-convincing her of this he enlists
her help in finding the wizard who can send him back to the 12th century to save
their lineage. Meanwhile Julia's unfaithful money-grubbing husband Hunter (Matthew
Ross) throws a wrench in their plans and tries to have Thibault arrested for
false impersonation in order to hold onto the Malfete family fortune Julia stands
to inherit. Though the plot is riddled with holes the story line takes full advantage
of the 12th-century-meets-21st-century jokes and pranks including the visitors'
fascinations with modern day transportation electricity toilets and urinals
all guaranteeing good laughs.
Reno and Clavier reprise their roles in this American adaptation of the 1993 French
blockbuster Les Visiteurs. Reno brings both warmth and wit to Thibault's
character and carries the film from beginning to end. Tough chivalrous and charming
he evokes the legendary knight in shining armor. Though Clavier who plays his
subservient sidekick and brunt of all jokes elicits a few chuckles with his slip-and-fall
physical comedy he also demonstrates a tender side when he pleads with Thibault
for his freedom. Applegate puts on a believable British accent as Rosalind in
12th-century England but fares much better as Julia in 21st-century Chicago.
McDowell in the role of the blundering wizard shows that his strength may lie
more in the villainous than the comedic: his character is never really developed
leaving his portrayal one dimensional and stereotypical at best. Not much can
be said for the performances of Ross and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras either. Ross'
character is your run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter bad guy with no morals while
Wilson-Sampras overplays the made-up preening secretary.
The beginning of the film which is set in 12th-century England is done surprisingly
well from the costumes down to the cinematography; unfortunately this seems
to be where the bulk of the budget was spent. The modern day portion of the film
is sadly lacking especially when juxtaposed against the cold dark and realistically
gloomy feel of the first half. The special effects during the latter portion of
the film seem almost cartoonish and diminish the overall look of the film. While
Just Visiting retains the principal players of its French counterpart
including writer Jean-Marie Poire and director Jean-Marie Gaubert don't expect
this film to achieve a fraction of the success it had on the other side of the
Atlantic. Yet it provides good laughs from start to finish and the best moments
astonishingly enough were not limited to the ones shown in the film's trailer.