Movie reviewers kill me sometimes. The same critics who raved about the "kinetic thrill-ride" that was the senseless Mission: Impossible 2 and who called the ridiculous The Patriot "passionate and engrossing" are now turning up their noses at Bryan Singer's X-Men adaptation. According to most news sources, the movie is portentous, under-plotted, filled with too many characters (or, for X-Men fans, too few), and serves as nothing but the setup film for an obvious franchise.
Well, movie reviewers have never proven to have any enormous influence on box-office intake, and for once I'm grateful; despite the warnings from most critics, X-Men is going to go through the roof, and deserves to. Director Singer, screenwriter David Hayter, and the mostly terrific assemblage of cast and technical crew have taken on a very daunting task: bringing the beloved comic book - which has featured, at last count, more than 300 characters since its debut in the '60s - to life on the big screen, and they've pulled it off with an almost shocking amount of skill. Yeah, the film is geared to be the first in what the studio hopes will be a number of X-Men offerings. But compared to such clumsy franchise setups as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade, and even the original Superman movie, X-Men is a major winner, stylish and quick and, yes, funny.
(A quick sidebar: If you're reading this, I'm going to assume at least a basic awareness of who and what the X-Men are on your part; if you don't have a clue ... well ... you're not really the intended audience for any movie released this summer.)
True, the plotting is nothing to shout about - it's your standard good-versus-evil deal, with the army of good mutants, led by the telepathic Professor X (Patrick Stewart), trying to thwart the evil ones, led by the aptly named Magneto (Ian McKellen). And, again true, several characters get a little short-changed in the film, particularly Cyclops (James Mardsen), who is basically there to be the butt of jokes by Wolverine (Hugh Jackson). But Singer proves to have a sure touch for comic-book action - there's a wonderful scene, both hilarious and tension-filled, where Magneto attacks a squadron of cops with their own weapons - and the film's rhythm is speedy without being rushed. As opposed to movies with the Jerry Bruckheimer stamp, the pace never lags but you can still follow the action.
Best of all, X-Men features some sizzling performers. Stewart and McKellen are, to no one's surprise, dazzling, particularly when they get the rare scene to bounce dialogue off each other; you'd be happy to spend 100 minutes in their company alone. Famke Janssen, as telekinetic Jean Grey, and Anna Paquin, as Rogue, get some fine moments, and the promise of more to come. And as Wolverine, Jackman is a major find, an actor who could be called "the new Russell Crowe" if the original Russell Crowe weren't so relatively new. With an imposing physique and a great dry humor, Jackman strikes exactly the right notes between comic-booky action stud and tortured, realistic hero; he's the star of this movie, and you could ask for no better.
Future X-Men installments will no doubt spend less time on the exposition of the characters and their particular world - as the Star Wars and Star Trek films did - but, overall, this setup X-Men film has more than enough pleasures to satisfy both X-Men fans and newcomers; the expository scenes (set at Professor X's School for Gifted Youngsters), in fact, are among the most enjoyable in the film. X-Men is just about perfect summertime entertainment, a comic-book movie with real juice.
DISNEY'S THE KID
Pretty much everything about Disney's The Kid is loathsome except for the actual performance of it. It's a fairy tale about a 40-year-old image-consultant bastard (Bruce Willis) who learns to mend his ways when confronted with his actual inner child (Spencer Breslin), himself at age eight, when he was a pudgy, klutzy loser. It's one of those movies where the narcissistic lead craps on everyone throughout the film until he has a spiritual change of heart and then - miracle of miracles! - gets embraced by everyone he's wronged in the past. Yes, the storyline makes me want to puke, too, and it isn't helped by the hideously sentimental streak of director Jon Turteltaub, who would take a vise to your eyeballs and force the tears out if he could.
However, in one of those damnable jokes of the Hollywood gods, it's really well-acted. Willis is at his best playing this kind of comedic creep - he even manages to keep his dignity near the end - and there's a roster of extraordinarily talented actresses in support: Lily Tomlin, Emily Mortimer, Jean Smart, and that one-scene wonder Melissa McCarthy.(As Willis's put-upon girlfriend, Mortimer is as charming as could be, but Willis shows more chemistry with the sensational Smart as a local newscaster.) They'll all keep you amused while you're bemoaning the clunkiness of the film itself. Disney's The Kid is further proof, if any was necessary, that there are far more acting talents in Hollywood than the town knows what to do with.
The four 12-year-olds who sat a couple of rows ahead of me at Scary Movie appeared to be having a great time, which seems about right. It's mostly a 12-year-old's idea of parody: insert naked body parts, flatuence, drug humor, and the like into semblances of pre-existing movies and - Voila! Hilarity ensues!
This doesn't bother me all that much, and I even laughed a couple of times - once, at a nifty satire of The Usual Suspects, and once when a noisy (but funny) patron was killed for talking throughout a screening of Shakespeare in Love. But Scary Movie is a strange, lazy little work. First of all, you can't parody movies - like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer - that were parodies to begin with. And second, you get no satiric points for merely filming scenes identical to those in the originals with the merest fillip of humor added, like the Deputy Dewey clone (Dave Sheridan) who's a drooling basket case. Keenen Ivory Wayans' film feels forced, and not all that fresh, like an SNL skit that runs on way too long - in short, like all of them. In the end, Wayans and his co-screenwriters seem to want kudos merely for seeing lots of movies. Well, so have I, but I didn't make $42 million on my opening weekend.