'Fantastic Four's' Surfer leaves you cold

Posted: June 15, 2007

For a brief moment in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, it looks as though global warming will be taken care of: A brooding, intergalactic naked dude on a surfboard is flying across Japan, over Egypt, leaving snow and ice in his wake.

The world could just pay this fellow to sail over the trouble spots - Greenland, Antarctica, Washington - and re-freeze the melting caps, dump tons of white stuff on the dunderheads and make the polar bears happy again.

Sadly, that's not what the Silver Surfer has come to do. He's come to ruin Reed Richards' and Sue Storm's wedding, for one thing. And destroy Earth.

Reed, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd), and Sue, a.k.a. Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba), are about to say their vows on a Manhattan roof when a massive power failure wrecks everything. The couple stop in mid-"I do" to save their guests from being mussed in the mayhem. And then they have to team up with their partners - Johnny Storm, a.k.a. Human Torch, a.k.a. Sue's obnoxious brother (Chris Evans), and Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Thing (Michael Chiklis) - to figure out who this cosmic stranger is and why he's wreaking havoc on their nuptials, and the world.

They could have read old issues of Marvel Comics to find out.

Although FF:ROTSS comes from the same place as Spider-Man (New York, and Marvel editor Stan Lee's noggin), this sequel to the 2005 Fantastic Four debut is lackluster, even by comparison to the lackluster Spider-Man 3.

Yes, the freaky-powered foursome sport cool blue jumpsuits, and Reed, a genius geek, has built a flying car that boasts spiffy features (it flies, and flies apart into modular mini-cars). And Alba, with a blond dye job and enormous blue contact lenses, is an eyeful.

But if anyone believes for a second that Reed and Sue are madly in love, struggling to balance their personal and professional lives while staving off a phalanx of paparazzi hot on their superhero celebrity trail - well, even Gruffudd and Alba seem to be having trouble believing it. Richards may be "the greatest scientist of the 21st century," but he's failing chemistry right before our eyes. There isn't any between these two stars.

Meanwhile, Evans, as the hot-headed, egotistical Johnny Storm, succeeds in being rude and repugnant, but not necessarily amusingly so. And Chiklis does his emoting under a giant, lava-caked fatsuit. A joke about squeezing into a row of coach-class seats is as clever as things get for the dermatologically-challenged, burnt sienna hulk.

As for the Silver Surfer, as voiced by Laurence Fishburne (intoning gravely), the glistening chrome figure is a combination of Pan's Labyrinth's "Pale Man" Doug Jones' body and a mess of digital effects. He dives, hovers and zooms around the universe on his cosmic board, looking soulful and solemn and doing the evil bidding of someone called Galactus. And then there's Victor Von Doom (nip/tuck's Julian McMahon), the Fantastic Four's longtime nemesis, who covets the surfboard for himself. Ostensibly to save the planet, Doom aligns himself with the Four. He is not to be trusted.

Nor are the credited writers, who summon slews of comic-book cliches, but not a single fresh wisecrack to go with them. The closest FF:ROTSS gets to wit is when Johnny convinces a reluctant Reed to attend a bachelor party, after promising the uptight groom-to-be that there won't be any "exotic dancers." When a bevy of tarted-up babes attach themselves to the rubber-limbed Reed (that's his super-power: elasticity), Johnny explains, "they're not exotic dancers, they're just hot."

Actually, that's not terribly funny, either.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer ** (out of four stars)

Directed by Tim Story, written by Don Payne and Mark Frost, based on the Marvel Comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, photography by Larry Blanford, distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.

Reed Richards............................. Ioan Gruffudd

Sue Storm. . . Jessica Alba

Johnny Storm. . . Chris Evans

Ben Grimm................................. Michael Chiklis

Von Doom. . . Julian McMahon

Parent's guide: PG (comic-book violence, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.

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