Fantastic’ snore: Superheroes can’t save this dumb storyline

“Fantastic Four”

20th Century Fox

Directed by Tim Story

Written by Michael France and Mark Frost

Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Julian McMahon

Rated PG-13/105 min

Opens July 8, 2005

One-and-a-half out of four stars

Maybe it’s just poor timing. Director Tim Story’s “Fantastic Four” arrives in the shadows of “Spider-Man 2” and “Batman Begins,” two incredible super-hero flicks bolstered by rich storylines and vivid direction.

In comparison, “Fantastic Four” is shallow and stupid. Cosmic rays blast a group of astronauts, imbuing them with superpowers. And what do they do? They study and bicker and occasionally do battle with an awfully narrow-minded villain.

Fun!

Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffold), aka Mr. Fantastic, can stretch and contort his body like silly putty, but we never get a good look at him doing it or using it. Maybe that’s just as well-the few times we do see his elongated limbs and wilted body, the effects look pretty cheesy and in a limp-spaghetti, Salvador Dali kind of way.

Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), aka The Invisible Girl, has the awesome ability to turn completely see-through-but only once her clothes are shed. This leads to a scene in which she escapes from her pursuers, leaving a trail of clothes behind-shoes, skirt, blouse, underwear. OK, so she’s naked. Now what? Maybe her next stop is Bloomingdale’s.

Susan’s brother, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), aka The Human Torch, is a hot-head (get it?) who can fly, burst into flames and go super-nova if he gets reckless enough. He wants to use his powers for fame, fortune and getting girls.

Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), aka The Thing, gets the brunt of the cosmic rays-his entire being has solidifies, organs and all-into the rocky tan texture of an Arby’s chicken finger. He can crumple up a sports car and body-check a semi-truck with nary a dent to himself.

Ben/Thing befriends a sexy blind woman (Kerry Washington), reassuring us that everyone, even grumpy rock creatures, can be loved. One can’t help but imagine what their sex life must be like.

Truth be told, every super-hero movie is fundamentally silly, what with people running around in tights, the names and the over-the-top, heroic statements (“with great power comes great responsibility”).

If the story and the script are good, such nonsense can be elevated to a fun, exciting and thoroughly engrossing level. But “Fantastic Four” is strictly pedestrian, so it’s just nonsense.

The four stick to their own clique, never really engaging with the general population. Everyone knows his or her identity very early on. So, how does the world react? Curious? Terrified? Does the army or the president show interest? With a flaming man and an invisible girl at their disposal, terrorists might think twice about messing with America.

No, the movie is too short-sighted and brain-dead to think of anything that creative.

The four are treated like celebrities who comfortably integrate themselves into society. The ladies cozy up to Johnny, apparently unconcerned that he might burst into flames at any moment.

The Thing lifts up a fire truck. The Invisible Girl can summon force fields. Doesn’t all this deserve a little more than a shrug and a cheer from the masses?

There’s nothing really at stake here. The four try to fix themselves at first, but eventually grow accustomed to their powers.

A villain shows up in the form of the electric Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who’s interested in destroying the four.

But then what? He has no apparent plans for the rest of the world. Here’s a villain that needs a lesson in scope.

The actors do their best in badly written roles. Chris Evans and Jessica Alba are hot, young, charismatic actors, and Michael Chiklis somehow manages to emote under all that rocky makeup.

Too bad about the story. Superpowers and all, the Fantastic Four and their troubles simply aren’t that fantastic.

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