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FANTASTIC FOUR (director: Tim Story; screenwriters: Mark Frost/Michael France/based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; cinematographer: Oliver Wood; editor: William Hoy; music: John Ottman; cast: Ioan Gruffudd (Dr Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm/The Thing), Jessica Alba (Susan Storm/Invisible Girl), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm/The Human Torch), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom), Kerry Washington (Alice Masters), Laurie Holden (Debbie Grimm), Hamish Linklater (Leonard); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Bernd Eichinger/Avi Arad/Ralph Winter; 20th Century Fox; 2005)
“Far less than fantastic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An inconsequential summer blockbuster based on a Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, which was started in 1961. It follows other Marvel Comics adapted to the big screen that were deemed good enough to have sequels such as Blade (1998), X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002), and others so far without sequels but most likely will have them soon such as Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004) and Elektra (2005). Fantastic Four was previously the basis for a pair of terrible animated short-lived television serials, and was made into a feature film in 1994 by producer Roger Corman that was never released (they must have known something these recent producers don’t know!).

The Fantastic Four is weakly directed by Tim Story (“Barbershop”) and gracelessly written by Mark Frost and Michael France. It aims to be taken as a B film type of lighthearted campy spoof, offering dumb jokes much like those on bad TV shows and relying on flash over substance to dazzle the viewer with its goofy take on things. It, also, doesn’t get much bang for its big budget ($90 million), as the special effects were cheesy and everything sci-fi about its look was far less than fantastic.

The Fantastic Four eschews telling a crime story (evidently there’s not much crime in Gotham due to all these comic book heroes out there) to tell the story of their origination and their battle with billionaire industrialist villain Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). The baddie, who is about as engaging as a parasite infection, takes on the equally engaging Fantastic Four. They don suits made of unstable molecules that make them look like an over-the-hill rock band from the 1980s.

MIT grad scientist genius Dr Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) asks his old university chum Von Doom for funding to launch a mission to Von Doom’s space station to study the effects of a cosmic storm on DNA. A deal is worked out whereby Reed is forced to give up seventy-five percent ownership to Von Doom. Reed uses his experimental spacecraft to take along on this important research mission Von Doom’s geneticist Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), her immature showoff brother Johnny as pilot and Reed’s loyal protector strong-arm friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis). The aggressive Von Doom stole the hot Susan (looking more like a cheesecake model than a scientist) from the dworky Reed, who dated her in college but never got around to popping the question about a long-term relationship. Reaching the space station, the storm gets very active and Von Doom brings his station shields down so that the crew can’t reach safety and thereby are exposed to massive doses of radiation. On earth, the aborted mission is declared a failure and Von Doom is removed as CEO by his company’s bottom-line only board of directors. He finds himself affected by the radiation, which causes his mutated skin to turn to metal and he now has the power to charge electrical energy. The crew of four soon realize the radiation has left them all with freakish supernatural powers: Reed has the ability to stretch his skin and becomes like a rubber man, Susan can become invisible and create a protective force field, Johnny can create fire throughout his entire body and bring up a supernova heat level similar to the sun’s, while Ben develops super strength but turns into looking like a monster with a stone-like orange scarred outer skin. Reed promises to go back to the lab and try to find a way to bring them all back to normal. During a massive car accident on a NYC bridge, the four receive media publicity for using their newly acquired powers to rescue a number of people involved in the crash and are dubbed the Fanstastic Four. Loudmouth spokesman Johnny, the only one to relish the notoriety (chicks flock to him), dubs each with a nickname: Reed becomes Mr. Fantastic, Ben becomes The Thing, Susan becomes The Invisible Girl, while Johnny calls himself The Human Torch. The third act involves the ensuing battle that takes place when the revengeful Von Doom seeks to destroy the Fantastic Four for making him a freak, bringing on his financial decline, for Reed stealing his girl and just because he’s a bad sort of a dude and the film needed some fight action scenes.

H.L. Mencken once said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” The producers are gambling he’s right once again. If you want to know the truth, I wouldn’t bet a wooden nickel against the businessmen.REVIEWED ON 7/11/2005 GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”