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FANTASTIC FOUR

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The Marvel comic-book franchise finally gets a big-screen workout after years in development. Tim Story's film begins with the accident in outer space that gives the titular four -- plus the villain Victor Von Doom -- their bizarre powers. Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) can go invisible, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud) is now really stretchy, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) can burst into flames, and poor old Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) becomes hideously ugly and strong. Most of the film finds the four spatting and developing their skills, in preparation for a big showdown with Von Doom. Story adopts a somewhat cartoonish tone, balancing the work's antecedents in comic panels without straining to be postmodern about it. It's nice that for once a comic-book movie is simply that, but I'd have been happier with less insipid dialogue (particularly the romance between Sue and Reed) and more zippy special effects. Flame on! (AH)

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