Batman & Robin
directed by Joel Schumacher
(Warner Brothers, 1997)

The first three Batman movies weren't too bad, by superhero standards. In fact, despite some glitches and missteps (let's not talk about that whole Penguin thing, OK?), they remain among the best comic book adaptations on the market.

That said, No. 4 was a mistake. Batman & Robin manages to spend 125 minutes without a single redeeming scene.

In the James Bond tradition of movie casting, the actor behind Batman's cowl changes regularly. While Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns) and Val Kilmer (Batman Forever) each did fine jobs as both Batman and Bruce Wayne, TV doctor George Clooney isn't convincing in either role.

Top billing for this one went, not to Clooney, but to Arnold Schwarzenegger as the villain Mr. Freeze. His lines are bad enough; his delivery makes you reach for the fast-forward button.

Uma Thurman, usually one of my favorite actresses, seems to know she's in a loser here and coasts through the movie doing as little acting as possible. She portrays the second villain, Poison Ivy, but how she came up with a vegetative Mae West for her inspiration is anyone's guess.

The third villain is Bane (Jeep Swenson). In the comics, Bane was one of Batman's most powerful foes; here, he's a gorilla in a rubber muscle suit who speaks only in grunts and can be defeated simply by unplugging him. Sigh.

Chris O'Donnell's Robin/Dick Grayson carries such a big chip on his shoulder that the character becomes rather pointless. Even more pointless is Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Not only has the character been completely rewritten from its comic book origins -- she's gone from being Commissioner Gordon's librarian daughter to being the motorcycle-loving niece of Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred -- but Silverstone doesn't fit well in the mold of a costumed crimefighter. (And no, costume designers, rubber nipples on bodysuits aren't sexy.) Alfred (Michael Gough) has been transformed from the wise friend and confidante of earlier films to a frail and sentimental old man spouting banalities.

Gotham City's gothic architecture and counterculture population has been taken to new -- and silly -- extremes, to the point where it's literally embarrassing to watch. Even the big-dollar special effects can't help. (Supermodel Elle Macpherson is another special effect, making a few cameo appearances as Wayne's glitzy showpiece girlfriend. Still doesn't help.)

To make matters worse, the story reeks. Even the big bat battles are disappointing, looking campier than those from the old '60s TV series. (They forgot the BIFF and POW screens, unfortunately, which would at least have added some levity to the moment.) Watch the first scene for the fight with Hell's Hockey Team if your curiosity is so morbid. Then switch off the video and read a comic book instead.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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