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Save It for the Funny Papers

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2000


    'X-Men' The X-Men: Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Famke Janssen. (20th Century Fox)
"X-Men," derived from the extremely successful Marvel Comics series, isn't juvenile, it isn't even infantile. It's prenatal!

We are in a fetus-dream of reality, unformed by perception of an actual world, unregulated by memory or science, where majestic creatures with ridiculous nicknames and unbelievable powers are ruled by august, caparisoned, flying British actors who should know better. Meanwhile, a senator is turned into an exploding jellyfish and nobody laughs except us grown-ups.

Whatever it is that lets a comic book live in its own pages and in the imagination of its fans almost completely disappears when it is transferred to the more literal medium of film. The first two "Superman" movies were exceptions to that rule, as was the first "Batman," where the directors--Richard Donner, Richard Lester and Tim Burton--found a way to achieve a visual equivalent of the pop vernacular, a believable dream-state reality. Not here with poor Bryan Singer (he once directed "The Usual Suspects"), who gives the comic a leaden feel that is somehow overproduced and deadening at once.

The film is set sometime in the near future, when, for some reason (exposure to too much Google on the Internet?) the human race has begun again to mutate and those whose X's and Y's have gotten scrambled with spectacular consequences are exiled to outsider status. Some, led by Magneto, attempt to subvert the old human order; some, led by Professor Xavier, attempt to defend the old human order.

Don't Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart have better things to do with their time than lend their gravitas to an enterprise as silly is this? I mean, really: "And Ian McKellen as Magneto" has to be one of the most ridiculous credit lines in Hollywood history. One sight of the eminent Shakespearean floating serenely through the air is enough to break your faith in the judgment of adults.

The focus, though, is on two lesser X-dweebs. These would be Rogue, a young lady whose mutancy seemed to involve a deadly kiss, played by the great child actress Anna Paquin, who has become unmemorable as a teenager. The second is Wolverine, played by Aussie Hugh Jackman, a fellow with a very square head who looks like Neil Diamond on steroids. Wolverine is a human switchblade. He has titanium blades spring-loaded into his bones. They pop out of the raw flesh when he's agitated, turning him into a Cuisinart with an attitude problem. His mutation is that he heals with absurd speed, so that when he folds up his knives, the skin heals over them. Someone thought this was cool?

Nothing here has been thought out very well. Some of the "mutations" simply defy all known laws. Poor Storm, played by an overwhelmed Halle Berry under a porno actress's blond wig, has the power to control the weather. Now, how would she get a "mutation" like that? That would be a miracle, not a mutation. On the inert pulp of a comic book page, in Day-Glo colors with lightning-flash SHAZAAMS and thought bubbles and several hundred exclamation points per square inch, it might seem amusing; on the screen, when she conjures up a hard wind to blow Wolverine up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, where he can fight a bad mutant--this one's mutation appears to be he is just like the Incredible Hulk, but sickly yellow, not green--it just looks ridiculous to adult eyes.

The plot is equally bereft of thought. The bad mutants mean (somehow) to use a U.N. conference as a platform for mutating all the leaders--that'll show them! They do this in some impenetrable conspiracy that involves using Magneto's powers as amplified by the kidnapped Rogue's electrical penumbra. This never made the slightest bit of sense, and the movie is hustling along so fast (87 minutes) it doesn't bother to explain a thing. Our X-men use their Stealth fighter to get there in time to try to stop it.

As a festival of bad acting, and bad judgment, it would be hard to top "X-Men." But even the general level of absurdity is trumped by one gambit: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, one of the world's most beautiful models, is in the film--and she's buried behind an inch of blue latex. Clearly, someone isn't thinking very clearly.

X-MEN (87 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for goofy violence.


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