[Screen It]

(2003) (Sean Connery, Shane West) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A group of superheroes sets out to stop a madman with advanced weaponry from starting a world war at the end of the 19th century.
It's 1899 and a nefarious villain known as the Fantom has been attacking various European countries with advanced weaponry, hoping to pit them against each other and start a world war. In response, M (RICHARD ROXBURGH) from the British Empire has set out to assemble a group of superheroes, known as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, to stop the Fantom and his plan of profiting from such a war.

Among them is legendary African hunter Allan Quatermain (SEAN CONNERY), along with pirate Captain Nemo (NASEERUDDIN SHAH), scientist turned vampire Mina Harker (PETA WILSON), invisible man Rodney Skinner (TONY CURRAN), the immortal Dorian Gray (STUART TOWNSEND) and the legendary Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (JASON FLEMYNG).

With the assistance of American secret service agent Sawyer (SHANE WEST), the League sets out for Venice where they hope to stop the Fantom from destroying the city and thus setting off the world war.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Long before his "Matrix" days, Keanu Reeves, along with Alex Winter, took a time travel trip in "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" where they encountered various historical figures that helped them pass their history course.

In "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," where the term "dude" is never uttered, the collection of well-known figures is not only historical, but also literary. They haven't been brought together for comedy, however. Instead, they're present to battle evil and save the world, Justice League of America style.

Yet, our superheroes don't come from the pantheon of D.C. Comics, but rather the "graphic novel" comic books by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill from which this film gets its title. Thus, rather than an all-star team of Superman, Batman and the like, we have a great white hunter, a sub captain, a vampire, an invisible man, an immortal being, a Secret Service agent and an infamous scientist and his hulking alter ego.

And thus begins the first problem of many that plague this effort that's been helmed by Stephen Norrington ("Blade," "Death Machine"). While some of the characters will be familiar to everyone, others have been absent for too long to be recognized by some/many viewers. To be fair, that wouldn't be a problem if the film were good and/or the characters and story engaging.

Unfortunately, they're not, and thus the assembling of such literary characters seems a bit of a waste of time and effort. That's not only because the target audience won't know who some of them are and won't get the literary references, but also because they're simply not that super.

A bigger problem is Norrington and screenwriter James Dale Robinson's ("Cyber Bandits") take on the source material. Like "Blade" before it (notwithstanding the subject matter of that graphic novel adaptation), this one's all bark and little or no bite. There are all sorts of action and fight sequences, but few, if any of them are remotely interesting or engaging.

Despite the high stakes involved - stopping a world war from breaking out at the dawn of the 20th century - the film also lacks a sense of urgency. Since the filmmakers don't allow us to care about the characters or their goal, the outcome of their actions and the various battles is relatively pointless.

It doesn't help that Norrington's direction of them is even less exciting than in "Blade," and the cutting between the simultaneous fight sequences only serves to diffuse their potency and momentum even more. In fact, and considering the set-up, the film ends up coming off as a sub-par version of Fox's stable-mate "X-Men" franchise.

Like that film, this one also features extensive special effects that, for the most part, are simply but quite noticeably less than state of the art, don't look real, and only end up lessening the overall entertainment value of the offering (although this one's hulking Mr. Hyde was more convincing than the title character in "The Hulk").

It doesn't help that the plot - despite generally constantly moving forward from the assembly of characters to finding and battling the villain - lacks a sense of building momentum and instead feels like a hodgepodge of loosely connected set pieces.

Some initially clever and fun dialogue all but dries up in the film's second half. All sorts of lapses and errors in logic (the vampire who has no problem with sunlight, for instance), as well as far too obvious set-up elements for later and quite predictable payoffs, unnecessarily distract the viewer and give the film even more of a messy feel.

Even the introduction of the "advanced" technology and weaponry is wasted as we don't feel the same "shock and awe" that the period characters supposedly do (but only briefly) upon seeing cars, tanks and handheld machine guns. To top all of it off, the villain - the linchpin for films like this - is far too weak and uninteresting to battle the heroes, let alone make us care or worry about them.

The one thing the film has going for it is a decent cast headlined by the presence of Sean Connery ("Finding Forrester," "Entrapment"). While his and the performances by the likes of Jason Flemyng ("Below," "Mean Machine"), Stuart Townsend ("Trapped, "About Adam"), Tony Curran ("Pearl Harbor," "Blade II") and Peta Wilson ("Loser," TV's "Le Femme Nikita") never delve much beneath superficiality, at least they're marginally interesting to watch.

The likes of Naseeruddin Shah ("Monsoon Wedding," "The Perfect Murder"), Shane West ("A Walk to Remember," "Get Over It") and Richard Roxburgh ("Moulin Rouge!" "Oscar and Lucinda"), however, can't do much with their sketchily drawn characters.

Perhaps with a better assortment of literary figures, more cohesive direction, and/or a better script, this might have been an okay or even entertaining diversion. As is stands, it never engaged or interested me at any point, all of which means that "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" isn't particularly remarkable or noteworthy. It rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 8, 2003 / Posted July 11, 2003

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