Fantastic Four (2005)

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 07/09/05 17:07:07

"Shouldn't Jessica Alba be the Visible Woman?"
1 stars (Total Crap)

Thirteen years ago, legendary exploitation filmmaker Roger Corman produced a micro-budgeted adaptation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s The Fantastic Four that wound up being shelved because it featured a cast free of marquee actors, a sloppy script and cheesy mechanical special effects. Now the folks at Marvel Comics and Twentieth Century Fox have given us a big budgeted film that features a cast free of marquee actors, a rancid script and cheesy digital special effects. So much for progress.

In the comic books, the Fantastic Four have been able to defeat super villains like Dr. Doom and the Savage Sub-Mariner because their combination of powers outweighs both the bad guys and their own internal squabbles. “The Floptastic Four,” on the other hand, is a film where none of the elements come together.

For the multitude of flaws that run through Corman’s movie, you get a sense that the filmmakers loved both the characters and making movies so much that their enthusiasm made you almost forget that the finale features a computer generated Human Torch scene that looked as if was filmed off an Atari screen.

The new film reeks of filmmakers who are more interested in deals than in movies. It’s an all too common problem, but throughout “Fantastic Four,” there’s a sense of some producers grinning over how cleverly they’ve managed to fit in a product placement or an opportunity to set up a sequel.

Unfortunately, nobody bothered to think of any reason to sit through the current film.

What there is of a story centers around how a troubled scientist named Reed Richards (Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, “Horatio Hornblower”) recruits a small crew to join him on a jaunt into space to learn new things about DNA. He gets some financial support from the portentously named tycoon Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon, “Nip/Tuck”).

For some reason he feels like taking along his geneticist girlfriend Sue Storm (OK, so if I’m going to pick an actress to play a geneticist, I’d cast Jessica Alba?) and her hot-headed brother Johnny (Chris Evans, “Cellular”). This is an awkward arrangement because both Reed and Victor have the hots for Sue and because Alba’s acting isn’t developed enough to make this work.

Rounding out the team is Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), whose happy life is centered around his loving girlfriend. Because he’s constantly staring at her picture and everyone else mentions her name dozens of times, you get the impression, he’s in for disaster.

Actually, the whole team is in for a rude awakening when they are exposed to some cosmic radiation. The effects are that:
*Reed can stretch like pretzel dough.
*Johnny bursts into flames and even fly at will.
*Sue becomes invisible and shoots force fields (if only her dialogue could disappear as well).
*Ben has rock skin and can push over semis.

Victor isn’t so lucky. He gets some kind of metallic or electrical superpower that isn’t terribly frightening or useful. When the five of them eventually face off, it results in a rumble that leads to unconvincing CGIs and gobs of product placement.

Nobody pays ten bucks or more to see a Nike commercial, and what could be less crucial to a story than watching Johnny’s sparks “strategically” light a billboard for a flame broiled Whopper?

This is about as witty as the film gets.

There’s also a nasty whiff of hypocrisy about this film because it mocks Johnny Storm for having dolls made of his fellow superheroes, but yet the screen is full of shameless plugs. And it’s a pretty safe bet that there are toys out there just like the one we see in the film.

For all of the money that was spent on this thing, “Fantastic Four” feels awfully slow and lifeless. The storyline goes from incoherent to tedious at a moment’s notice. Yes, we know that Johnny Storm loves extreme sports, but do we really need to see him go wild with a snowboard and a motorcycle jump.

Dr. Doom isn’t all that menacing. He’s got no henchmen and only seems to want to fight the Four. Taking over the world, like he wanted to do in the Corman film, would at least make more sense.

Considering that the quartet cause a multi-car wreck that director Tim Story would like us to believe is an act of heroism, in real life, Doom would probably find a surplus of people wanting to help him.

Story and screenwriters Michael France and Mark Frost seem to believe that bigger explosions mean greater strength of character. The Four are better than Dr. Doom because they cause more property damage. I’m willing to suspend disbelief, but not as far as Mr. Fantastic can stretch.

The only cast members who emerge from this mess with dignity intact are Evans and Chiklis. Both nail the attitudes of their characters down and really try to run with them despite what little material they have in the script.

My anger toward this film is especially strong because I loved the comic book as a kid. Clearly the folks behind this one lacked that affection. If you truly love Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creations, show you own heroism by avoiding this awful desecration.

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