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(2005) (Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: Imbued with super powers after being exposed to cosmic radiation, a quartet of astronauts tries to adjust to their new abilities and curses while battling with their megalomaniacal benefactor who's growing stronger and more dangerous every day.
Reed Richards (IOAN GRUFFUDD) is a bankrupt but brilliant scientist who, with friend Ben Grimm (MICHAEL CHIKLIS), approaches former schoolmate and current billionaire businessman Victor Von Doom (JULIAN MCMAHON) with a request. Hoping to study some approaching cosmic radiation that he believes may have sparked life on Earth in its only other pass by our planet, Reed not only asks for financial aid, but he also requests the use of Doom's space station. Always wanting to see Reed fail in a spectacular fashion, Victor agrees.

Joining them is Victor's director of genetic research and current girlfriend Sue Storm (JESSICA ALBA) who once had a relationship with Reed, as well as her adventurous and brash playboy brother Johnny (CHRIS EVANS) who will pilot their mission. Unbeknownst to them, however, the cosmic storm is arriving sooner than Reed calculated, exposing the entire crew to high doses of radiation that fundamentally alters their DNA.

Back on Earth, they soon learn exactly how. Reed suddenly has the ability to stretch, bend and flatten his body like rubber, while Sue can turn invisible and create powerful force-fields around her or others. Johnny can cause any part of his body to catch on fire without any harm to him, while Ben has been turned into a monstrous figure who appears to be comprised entirely of rock. As he's the only one who can't will his super power into action, his new appearance causes his wife to leave him, but he's later consoled by a kind blind woman, Alicia Masters (KERRY WASHINGTON), who doesn't care how he looks.

As Reed tries to come up with a solution for their new abilities, the opportunistic Johnny seizes the moment to grab the limelight. After they end up preventing a catastrophe on a bridge high above the river, the press deems them the Fantastic Four and Johnny revels in the publicity. Yet, little do they realize that Doom was also affected and can now control electricity, a power that's slowly turning his skin into some sort of organic metal. With Reed racing to recreate the space storm with hopes that he can revert himself and his friends, the group must deal with the megalomaniacal Doom who's progressively becoming more dangerous and sees the group as the only thing between him and world domination.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
In the business world, there's this pesky little notion known as "truth in advertising." In the U.S. various government entities will come down hard on companies who fail to make sure their products live up to the hype and claims found in their advertising. Alas, their jurisdiction doesn't extend to enforcing movies and the studios behind them to deliver what they promise whether in their titles or ads that promote them. If they did, they could certainly go after "Fantastic Four," the latest big screen adaptation of a popular comic book.

Granted, most movies don't live up to the excitement and energy found in their trailers and TV commercials. And truth be told, the film's title is right two-thirds of the time. Yes, it's about the characters found in the Marvel Comics serial of the same name and true, there are four of them. Yet, the film is anything but fantastic (and yes, I get that the title is regarding their super hero powers).

It's amazing that in a day and age when the studios can crank out good to terrific such films along the lines of the latest "Batman" flick, the "X-Men" films and the superior "Spider-Man" pictures, they can also deliver the duds like "Catwoman, "Daredevil" and "Hulk." This offering clearly falls into the ranks of the latter, and the blame seems to be evenly spread among those both in front of and behind the camera.

While it's been decades since I was a fan of the comic book, Ioan Gruffudd ("King Arthur," "102 Dalmatians"), Jessica Alba ("Sin City," "Honey"), Michael Chiklis (TV's "The Shield," "The Commish") and Chris Evans ("The Perfect Score," "Not Another Teen Movie") individually and collectively feel wrong for their respective parts. Granted, at least Gruffudd somewhat has the look of his comic counterpart, but the rest of the overall cast simply seems off and the performances are clearly nothing to get excited about. In fact, about the only notable thing is trying to figure out exactly how much cleavage Alba is willing to show before turning this PG-13 flick into a R-rated offering.

That said, even more accomplished and better cast performers wouldn't have stood a chance with the lame material that screenwriters Mark Frost ("Storyville," "The Believers") and Michael France ("The Punisher," "Hulk") have concocted, or the way in which director Tim Story has assembled this lame and boring mess. I have no problems with such films having to get the usual back-story out of the way before the action starts, but such material here feels off and flat from the get-go. Rather than making an adaptation that both adults and kids can dig, Story and company have obviously aimed at the Gen X crowd which would explain the snowboarding, motocross and other such moments that feel completely out of place for a film like this and certainly don't do it or its performers any favors.

Even the one "mature" element regarding the main couple having to work together after a previously failed romance is botched and hobbled by some awful writing and overall plotting. The same holds true for the origins behind the group's first villain, Dr. Doom. Julian McMahon (TV's "Nick/'Tuck") is flat and unmemorable in the role, and the related story elements leading up to the big clash at the end between him and the four superheroes simply feels second-rate.

While 13-year-old boys might groove on the adolescent-targeted material, it won't be long before everyone else witnessing this labored effort wishes they could be watching the sophistication, depth and polished appeal of some of the film's far better predecessors. And speaking of polished, the effects here are anything but. While competent, they definitely look like they were created on a far smaller budget that would have been okay a decade or more ago, but decidedly look less than spectacular or convincing here.

That ranges from the Human Torch's flame effects to Mr. Fantastic's stretchy abilities and especially The Thing's blocky "rock" costume that never looks real. After seeing how the title character in "Hulk" was so poorly received, I'm sure the filmmakers decided to go the costume route, but the results aren't any more believable here (although Chiklis does manage to emote -- to a small degree -- through all of that latex or other material that encompasses him).

Perhaps the film's biggest problem is that it so closely follows on the successful footsteps of "The Incredibles." Although that picture wasn't an official adaptation of "The Fantastic Four," there's little doubt that it was obviously inspired by it (especially regarding some of the particular powers the characters possessed). And comparing the two is like night and day. One is flat, forced and boring with mediocre special effects, while the other is lively, clever, imaginative and filled from head to toe with spectacular visuals, not to mention far better writing and especially direction.

Then again, what was I possibly expecting considering that Story's other directorial offerings have been "Taxi" and "Barbershop," similarly lame films with little to no noteworthy filmmaking flourishes. Perhaps with a more capable director, a better and more interesting script, more money or effort put into the special effects, and different casting choices this could have been...well....it would have been a completely different and hopefully better movie. Anything but what the descriptive first part of its title might suggest, '"Fantastic Four" is a boring and well below average comic book adaptation that only looks worse in comparison with the better offerings from its genre. It rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed July 5, 2005 / Posted July 8, 2005

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