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Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

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The latest in the seemingly endless flow of comic books turned cinematic fodder, Fantastic 4 is far from fantastic but it’s not a flatulent flop either.

Quixotic Quartet

These 4 look Fantastic, but that's all that can be said
These 4 look Fantastic, but that’s all that can be said

Before even attempting to describe the story of the quixotic quartet, as lame as it might be, it must be pointed out that any movie which casts Maria Menounos, one of the vapid, perpetually chirpy co-hosts of Entertainment Tonight, as a nurse / hot doggin’ skier is aiming at a very specific demographic. Any semblance of logic is uncalled for in such territory. As long as you look good, that’s all that matters.

From that angle, Fantastic 4 is a huge success. The cast is oh so attractive. For starters, Jessica Alba (Sin City) has never looked better. She even plays an MIT wiz-babe, Susan Storm.

Then there’s her brother, Johnny (Chris Evans, Not Another Teen Movie), a guy who’s so good looking and such a smart ass, our first (male) impulse is to smack him upside the head.

Even Michael Chiklis (TV’s The Shield) and Ioan Gruffudd (King Arthur) exude a certain sex appeal as Ben Grimm and Reed Richards, the other half of the dynamic duo squared.

Then there’s Julian McMahon (TV’s Nip/Tuck) as Victor Von Doom. Good lookin’ chap. Extremely wealthy. Bad attitude. (Hint: He’s the bad guy.)

Super Powers!

Oh yeah. The story. Well…

You see, the five aforementioned hotties go into outer space and have an accident. They’re exposed to a “cloud” that looks something similar to a sunburst. You’d think they’d get killed being blasted by such stuff but don’t be thinkin’ here. Oh no.

As it turns out, they wind up back home, apparently without further incident although it would seem everybody at least blacked out at some point. No sooner can you say “thank goodness they’re safe” than queer things start to happen.

Johnny, the hot guy, guess what? He can turn himself into a human torch.

Reed, the calm, rather retiring scientist who stretches himself thin in pursuit of his dreams can now stretch himself literally, like a plastic man (oops, that’s another comic book character). He’s Mr. Fantastic.

Susan, who seems to be invisible to her former MIT sweetheart, Reed, can now turn herself invisible. You have to be a serious science geek to not notice a woman like Susan, Mr. Fantastic.

And poor Mr. Grimm, the solid lug of a man has turned into a stony Thing.

The action, such as it is, surrounds Von Doom, who loses his company after the little space exploit he funded turned into a catastrophe. He’s a cold-hearted, callous man whose skin turns into a nice metallic finish thanks to that sun/cloud/thing out there in space. Holding a grudge against the fine foursome, he seeks to knock ‘em off one by one.

As Hollywood lore would have it, the world waited 10 years for Fantastic 4’s screenplay to gestate and this is what they came up with. Perhaps all that gestating made it go sour because this story line sucks.

It’s Clobberin’ Time

The film’s saving grace is its humor. Grating at times, yes, but at least it seems to acknowledge how ludicrous it is for Twentieth Century Fox to spend the undisclosed, but undoubtedly enormous, amount of money on this claptrap.

Aside from the giddy, humorous spin put on the material, there’s precious little else to appreciate in this hodgepodge. The action is hardly thrilling and nowhere near convincing and there’s no reason to care for any of the characters, no matter how darn good looking they are.

Even the underlying theme of celebrity, the media, and all the problems they can incur, comes across as forced and irrelevant.

Perhaps the whole movie is just one big subversive joke. After all, Fantastic 4 was directed by Tim Story, whose biggest success to date is Barbershop. He’s an unlikely choice to helm such a big-budget, high-profile project.

Then again, maybe the ambitions were bigger and maybe something somewhere got lost from page to screen. The co-writers of the screenplay are Michael France (Goldeneye, Punisher, Hulk) and Mark Frost (TV’s Twin Peaks). For Frost in particular this seems to be a bit of a comedown; then again, maybe he’s the saving grace and maybe it’s some of his humor up there on the screen, doing what it can to save the film from being a complete disaster.

As it stands, Fantastic 4 is an expensive curiosity that lacks the heart of its fellow Marvel staple, Spider-Man. In comparison to Batman Begins, Fantastic 4 is trailer trash. Compared to Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, it’s, well, mediocre at best.