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'Batman & Robin': Hero Blandwich

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 20, 1997

George Clooney wears the Batsuit, but Arnold Schwarzenegger has top billing in the overwhelmingly bland "Batman & Robin." Well, why not? Like the Nightwing's other nemeses, Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze and his evil cohort, Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), invariably upstage him in this fourth fly-by-night adventure.

Not that Clooney puts up much of a fight. But then he can hardly move in all that fetishistic body armor. The poor fellow virtually vanishes into the rubber carapace, last seen on the tedious Val Kilmer. Indeed, the Batsuit seems to grow in size and scope while the characters and story line grow flimsier and more irrelevant.

Joel Schumacher, who also directed 1995's "Batman Forever," provides a series of jokey close-ups of the buff, benippled garb as the Dynamic Duo suit up for their initial set-to with Mr. Freeze and his hockey-playing goons. Freeze, a cryogenicist whose body temperature was permanently lowered in a lab mishap, must live in his own refrigerated armor, an elaborate contraption that runs on diamonds.

Freeze is in the act of snatching his first rock when Batman and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) confront him in the Gotham Museum. In this, the first of many protracted, frenetically paced action set pieces, Batman duels the Fridge while Robin goes after the diamond with the hockey team in pursuit. Clearly no expense was spared, but the scene provides all the ka-pow of a drag race between rival Zambonis.

Akiva Goldsman, who wrote "Batman Forever," coughs up a steady supply of lame puns ("Chill," orders Mr. Freeze) but little in terms of new twists or narrative momentum. Poison Ivy, the sinuous villainess, is the only relief from the onslaught of spoofy humor, special effects and meaningless comic book mayhem.

Ivy, previously a dowdy botanist, mutates into a mammal-hating half-plant, half-woman following yet another laboratory mishap. A cross between Mae West and a spear of asparagus, the vampy veggie can infatuate a man with her breath and kill him with a kiss. She uses her flower powers to turn Robin against Batman, but she can't lay a tendril on the duo's athletic new partner, Batgirl (inane Alicia Silverstone).

Batgirl, the butler's British niece by day, spends the day railing at Batman's billionaire alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, for forcing her Uncle Alfred (Michael Gough) into a life of servitude. That, along with Alfred's illness and the rebellious Robin's whining, supplants Wayne's old mood swings and romantic infatuations. Elle Macpherson plays Wayne's love interest, but he hardly notices, what with nursing Alfred and tending to the youngsters. Yes, family values have come to the belfry. And now that we've got family values, how about a little family planning?

We have a surfeit of Bats and the guano lies thick on the cave floor. The current Bat cycle was already tired when Schumacher replaced Tim Burton behind the camera on "Batman Forever." This chapter -- so action-packed, yet so insufferably dull -- makes it clear that there's nowhere else to go.

Batman & Robin is rated PG-13 for violence and language.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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