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'Fantastic Four' Simplistic, Inoffensive

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

There are a lot of numbers attached to Hollywood movies this summer. There's the fifth Harry Potter movie, the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" and last week's "Ocean's Thirteen." So let's round it out by getting a review of "The Fantastic Four." That's a round number, isn't it?

Here's Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN: Strange things are happening on planet Earth.

(Soundbite of movie, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer")

(Soundbite of crashing sound, crowd chatter and music)

TURAN: A bay in Japan freezes solid. It snows on the Sphinx. All the electricity in Los Angeles turns off just like a light.

(Soundbite of crashing sound, crowd chatter)

TURAN: Some are starting to wonder, a breathless TV journalist intones, if the hand of God is involved. Not quite.

Place the blame on the hand of Hollywood, always eager to put the planet in peril in the service of yet another superhero sequel, in this case "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer." Almost alone among comic book adaptations, the Fantastic Four films manage to be less sophisticated than their original source material. While the comic was hip enough to last for more the 40 years, the movie treatments are no one's idea of must-see cinema. On the other hand, it's something of a relief to confront a comic book movie that is neither hip nor wised-up.

Earnest, gee whiz, and foursquare, this simplistic and intentionally inoffensive sequel gets points for being easy to take and scrupulously avoiding obvious sources of irritation. The new "Fantastic Four" also features the Silver Surfer. He's a Zen-like entity of few but always enigmatic words.

(Soundbite of "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer")

Mr. LAURENCE FISHBURNE (Actor): (As the voice of Silver Surfer) I have no choice.

Ms. JESSICA ALBA (Actress): (As Sue Storm) No, wait.

TURAN: That's a big sentence for him. The surfer may not say much, but he looks great. And he's got the kind of movie star presence even movie stars dream about.

(Soundbite of movie, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer")

Mr. ANDRE BRAUGHER (Actor): (As General Hager) Open fire.

Unidentified Man: Open fire.

(Soundbite of gun fire)

TURAN: The surfer has the further good fortune to be played by Doug Jones, a marvelous physical actor who was unforgettable as both Pan and the Pale Man in Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth." This Fantastic Four film hinges on whether the four can dissuade the Surfer from his service to the dread Galactus, a particularly malevolent interstellar force. The outcome is not exactly in doubt, but that's the whole idea, isn't it?

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan, also known as the fantastic one, is the movie critic for the Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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