The Incredibles had nothing on the hip snappy neurotic FF depicted in over 100 issues of co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original wildly inventive ‘60s era comic books. Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) is still an absent-minded genius who mildly neglects his loved ones but with more of a mild Tim Allen sitcom dad-type quirkiness; the Invisible Girl (Jessica Alba) is still the team’s mother hen but frets less over her man’s workaholic tendancies; the Human Torch (Chris Evans) is still a flaming id but he’s trying to ease out of his arrested adolescence; and The Thing (Michael Chiklis) is far less tortured over his freakish rocky form now that he’s got a steady date in the blind Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington). And yes someone does wonder aloud exactly how the Thing gets his freak on. A few soft sex jokes aside this ride is aimed far more squarely for a younger audience as well as those moviegoers who long for the glory days of the f/x-filled disaster films of the late ‘90s when any recognizable tourist landmark depicted is sure to be blown to bits. The threat on this go-round is Galactus a cosmic planet-eating menace who has sent his herald the sleek Silver Surfer (a CGI creation given movement by Doug Jones of Hellboy and voiced by Laurence Fishburne). The Silver Surfer wreaks havoc on places like London and Japan before the Four takes him on playfully squabbling along the way like the cosmic-powered leads of a new Vacation film. The leads are more comfortable and try to notch up the comedic possibilities: Evans’ brash Vince Vaughn-ish portrayal of the Torch was a highlight of the first film but feels far more forced this time around; the great but ultimately handicapped Chiklis does what he can through latex and a silly gravel voice but isn’t given much to do; Alba continues to gradually grow as an actress but this film accomplishes the seemingly impossible by making her look as unattractive as she’s ever likely to appear with bad apparently irritating blue contacts a distracting fake blonde wig and a makeup job that makes her look more like a plastic action figure than a real superhero; but Gruffudd comes through with more distracted charm than in his first turn. Poor Julian McMahon an actor with an avowed fondness for the comic book source material is again miscast as Dr. Doom. He has even less to work with this time around in a part that should ideally be part-ham part-Hitler and part-Eurotrash coming of instead a snarky playboy in armor. The most interesting acting save for a tasty cameo performance by Stan Lee himself comes from the CGI Surfer but despite his silvery sheen and clear intention to be spun off into his own film franchise is still a colorless personality character-wise. Aided and abetted by generally great-looking special effects from New Zealand’s Weta Workshop writer-director Tim Story moves past some of the awkward meet-and-greet of the first film but this time he’s dropped much of the intended pathos. Story’s visual style is far more polished and appealing this time around but the helmer still lacks the fully-fledged senses of the cosmic the cinematic the mind-blowing the genuinely human and the downright funny to fully convey the true head trippy-ness that defined the original comic book and launched a whole Marvel Universe of superheroes with flawed but lovable personalities. Even with all of the characters’ origins out of the storytelling way Story can’t quite equal Bryan Singer’s X-Men trick or Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man successes to radically outdo the original. Still there’s plenty of eye-candy – from the end-of-the-world f/x to Alba and Evans in spandex – and the proceedings are mercifully fast-paced making for a mildly enthralling day at the multiplex for the whole family.
Part Mean Girls part Heathers—hell there’s even a little bit of Hilary Duff’s ridiculously stupid The Perfect Man thrown in there—John Tucker Must Die fits the genre nicely. But the word “die” is a little harsh. Actually when three high school girls—wannabe journalist Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) head cheerleader Heather (Ashanti) and vegan activist Beth (Sophia Bush)—find out they are all dating the delectable John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe) the school’s basketball star they decide to get even. After several embarrassing tactics backfire the girls come up with the perfect idea. They’ll recruit pretty but anonymous new kid Kate (Brittany Snow) doll her up and get Tuck to fall in love with her so she can ceremoniously dump him. Wow I can’t see anything going wrong with that plan. Not at all. Talk about some pretty people John Tucker has got them in spades starting off with the insanely handsome Metcalfe who literally had women weak in the knees as the hot gardener who woos Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria. It’s not a big stretch to see him as the sexy Tuck the most popular er player in school. Then there’s the trio of revengeful hotties: tall lean and blonde Kebbel (Aquamarine) as the “smart” girl; curvy singer/actress Ashanti (Coach Carter) as the bring-it-on “cheerleader”; and luscious and exotic Bush (TV’s One Tree Hill) as the “experienced” one. But really its the perky Snow’s (The Pacifier) show effectively playing the “invisible” girl no one knows or even cares to know who moves around a lot whenever her mother (Jenny McCarthy in a nice bit part) breaks up with a “John Tucker” herself. What’s wrong with these single moms dragging their daughters all over the place after their hearts get broken? Betty Thomas best known for her turn as Sgt. Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues doesn’t have the best track record in town as a director (I Spy is hers for example). But she’s helmed enough passable comedies (The Brady Bunch Movie Dr. Dolittle) to grant her admittance into the club. Problem here is Thomas isn’t teamed up with a sharp writer like Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey whose Mean Girls script simply zings. John Tucker is pretty standard fare taking bits and pieces from the already established high-school formula. Still the coveted teen market will more than likely enjoy all the antics in the film—especially the whole “thong” bit in which Tuck caught wearing a thong in one of the girls’ schemes makes it cool for guys everywhere to wear thongs. Yeah you get the picture.
Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel) has a really bad rep and with good reason: Five years ago convicted killer Riddick escaped the galaxy's law enforcement during a botched interplanetary prison transfer and has been on the lam ever since. As The Chronicles of Riddick picks up our antagonist finds his relative freedom has been compromised when mercenaries out for the $1 million bounty on his head discover his location and hunt him down. Riddick escapes their clutches steals their ship and sets off for Planet Helion to find Imam (Keith David) the Muslim cleric he rescued in Pitch Black and the only person who could have squealed his location to authorities. But while Riddick's hunch about Imam are correct the cleric has a reason for luring the mammoth murderer out of hiding: Helion is falling to unholy armies of Necromongers--warriors who conquer by force in the vein of Star Trek's Borg. Of course Riddick doesn't give a damn about the Helions or their plight--until he gets wind that the Necromogers want to kill him because of an old prophecy that foresees their end at Riddick's hands. Like it or not Riddick is left with no other choice but to battle the Necromongers.
The character of Riddick is unquestionably what made Pitch Black one of the most sequel-worthy sci-fi films in years. And Riddick would not have been one of sci-fi's most intoxicating characters if it weren't for Diesel. Like his Dominic Toretto in the 2001 actioner The Fast and the Furious Riddick is a villain of few words but when he speaks his carefully chosen words have impact--even if the dialogue is at times overly theatrical. Riddick is the perfect antihero; a cold-blooded and indifferent being who somehow evokes more compassion than the film's so-called good guys. Joining Riddick are some recurring characters including David as Imam but Riddick benefits the most from the addition of some new characters particularly Colm Feore as Lord Marshal the Necromonger leader whose goal is to rid the universe of all human life. Feore channeling nuggets of Julius Caesar into his role makes for one of Riddick's most thrilling foes. Another prominent addition to the cast is Judi Dench who has a surprisingly small role as Aereon an Elemental captured by the Necromongers and used for her special powers including ESP.
Writer/director David Twohy took his horror pic Pitch Black which gained a cult following since it was released four years ago and managed to successfully turn it into an sci-fi actioner of epic proportions. Everything is grander here which is almost a given considering Twohy shot Pitch Black on a dime in Australia using colored filters. In Riddick the director distinguishes the film's different environments--the Necros' mothership Crematoria's cavernous prison and Helion--using warm to cool tones that are dazzling yet more subtle than its predecessor. The CGI effects get a little gamey at times but production designer Holger Gross' gargantuan sets are impressive and help craft Twohy's otherworldly vision into a plausible one. And although Twohy jumps genres from Pitch Black to its sequel his storyline evolves logically from the original premise. But while moviegoers unfamiliar with Pitch Black will be able to follow the story easily enough they may have a difficult time grasping what makes Riddick such a big deal; the film explains the legend but never fully captures its quintessence. This could hurt Riddick's chances to broaden its Pitch Black fan base.