MORE SLUGGISH than a funeral barge, cheaper than a sale at K mart, it's a nerd, it's a shame, it's "Superman IV."
Christopher Reeve, in his fourth consecutive role, wrote the story for this film -- an unabashed nuclear disarmament message. But by the end of this movie (produced by the Golan-Globus conspiracy), nuclear winter seems more appealing than the prospect of "Superman V."
Everyone's back, except producer Alexander Salkind. And you see what a difference the guys at the top make. This "Superman" has all the special effects of a junior high school pantomime -- you know, where they twang Peter Pan around on wires. When a bad guy goes flying upward through the floors of a building, you can see the cable he's tied to. When Superman flies through outer space, he looks like a cardboard cutout held up by a technician. Here comes Superman, nyeoooooow-whoooosh.
In this sequel Superman's contemplative -- a sort of aerobics-class Hamlet -- as he mulls the downfall of the Kansas farmer, nuclear war and whether he'll ever land a role in which he doesn't have to wear tights. Warfield, an unscrupulous publisher, takes over the Daily Planet and turns Perry White's pride and joy into another tabloid. His daughter Lacy (Mariel Hemingway), who quickly becomes publisher, develops a thing for Clark Kent.
Lex Luthor (played with only fitful rigor this time by Gene Hackman), escapes jail with the help of dumbo nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer) and plots to kill Mr. Truth and Justice. The usual stuff between Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and Superman is going on. And a kid writes to Superman, asking him to get rid of all the missiles.
Before you can say "Dr. Strangelove," Superman has talked to the United Nations and is slinging missiles into a sort of crab net in outer space, then flinging them into the sun.
But Lex has slipped a foetus genetically equivalent to Superman in one of the rockets. So when the missile explodes, that little being becomes Nuclear Man, a musclebound Viking in leotards who looks like a bouncer for Twisted Sister.
The movie's climactic scenes apparently occur when the superbeings battle above Manhattan, the Great Wall of China and the moon. After this fight, you'll look fondly on Saturday morning wrestling. And after this film, you'll look fondly at just about anything.
SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (PG -- pathetic; gratuitous) -- At area theaters.