10 posts categorized "graphic novel"


No ring of honor, but 'Green Lantern's' fun

In essence, the challenge for the main character in "Green Lantern" is exactly the same as the task for the filmmakers.

The degree of success for both depend chiefly on the imagination.  Imagine it well enough and it will happen.  If the anointed G. Lantern needs a chainsaw, for instance, he need only imagine one and it appears.

A winning comic book-to-big screen transformation, however, might not be so easily accessed.

The ability to make it happen is pivotal in a movie year when the long-vaulted and stashed away comic book character is the second superhero, of sorts, to go green.

Seth Rogen donned a black mask (oddly enough) as "The Green Hornet" back in January.  Now comes Ryan Reynolds, People magazine's reigning "sexiest man alive" as flaky-yet-fearless test pilot Hal Jordan.

Jordan, as any self-respecting action comic book fan knows, has a date with a mysterious, green-glowing ring brought to Earth by a dying member of the Green Lantern Corps.

"Green Lantern," scripted by a gaggle of writers, is directed with some pizazz by established filmmaker Martin Campbell.  Campbell has called the shots on a varied cinematic menagerie; two James Bond adventures (the "Casino Royale" remake, "GoldenEye"), a "Zorro" flick and edgy Mel Gibson in "Edge of Darkness."

Campbell doesn't elevate a comic book romp into near-Shakespeare as Kenneth Branagh did recently with "Thor," a twist admired from this aisle seat.

Instead,,"Green Lantern" lights up as a rather goofball slant on superherodom.  On a very busy day where Hal crashes a jet in a test pilot dogfight and arrives very tardy for a birthday party, he's abruptly whisked away in a green cloud to the scene of a recent alien ship crash site where the dying Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is in a bit of a rush to pass on the ring.

Even though it gets somber at times -- there is, after all the reverent oath -- "Green Lantern" is mostly about being an escapism frolic that hits on enough entertainment cylinders most of the time.

Hal, being the first Earthling to join the forces that protect the universe (many looking like they just stepped out of the "Star Wars" bar), is, shall we say, a reluctant hero.  This will all come down to a battle of wills between the Green Lanterns and Parallax, literally a dark cloud of destruction that builds on fear and might just pay Earth a destructive visit.

The special-effects, which are primarily computer-generated (right down to the Green Lantern suit and mask), are top notch throughout.  Reynolds ("Buried," "The Proposal") is steady enough as Hal, and Blake Lively, who had more to do in "The Town," holds her own as Lois Lane.  Excuse me, as  Carol Ferris.

Comic book thrillers like this must, by definition, have someone to overact and chew the scenery.  In this case it's Tim Robbins as pompous Senator Hammond.  Peter Sarsgaard comes close to overdoing it as Hector, the senator's son.  But as Hector's involvement in the plot escalates, Sarsgaard wisely tones down his actions.

Bottom line, "Green Lantern" is a lively enough thrill ride around the universe.

Speaking of a thrill ride around the universe, though, a question:  If veteran Green Lantern-er Abin Sur requires a space ship to zip around the galaxies (and eventually crash-land in an Earth swamp), how is new recruit Hal Jordan able to soar solo without so much as a pair of goggles?

Enlighten me, oh mystic Green Lantern.  


The new 'X-Men' has class, 'First Class'

Back before sequelitis hit epidemic proportions in Hollywood in the 1980s with the "Halloween," "Lethal Weapon" and "Indiana Jones" franchises, it was pretty much one-and-done for most big-budget movie stories.

Today's audiences, quite familiar with sequels, are witnessing the next step in prolonging bottom-line profit for tent-pole (blockbuster) flicks:  prequels.

The "Star Trek" and "Batman" franchises pulled off the out-with-the-old (tired stories, highly paid actors)-in-with-the-new (fresh stories, rising stars not yet demanding top dollar) re-tooling well enough.

Now comes the "X-Men" reboot, which I must tell you, is more fun and better conceived than most.

Gone are Patrick Stewart as telepath Charles Xavier/Professor X and Ian McKellen as Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto, of course.  Three treks around the mutant trail were enough for them, or for the filmmakers.  (See above about star salaries.)

James McAvoy (Xavier) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto) head the cast in "X-Men:  First Class," an ambitious, well-mounted origin sci-fi adventure sure to please comic book and franchise movie fans with equal fist-pumping approval.

That's because "First Class" lives up to its subtitle all the way.  The ensemble cast of mutants, beginning with McAvoy ( "The Last King of Scotland," "Atonement") and Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds," "300") and continuing with Jennifer Lawrence (an Oscar nominee for "Winter's Bone") as shape-shifting Raven/Mystique and Kevin Bacon ("Frost/Nixon") as one bad mutated World War II Nazi, is about as first class as a prequel can hope to be.

Without giving too much of the plot away, let's just say that it unfolds mostly in the 1960s, a time of racial (and mutant) prejudice and Cold War unease.

Director Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake," "Kick-Ass") and a handful of writers (including Vaughn and previous "X-Men" director Bryan Singer) weave the emergence of mutants into known human culture and the growing Cuban Missile Crisis seamlessly.

As I've written many times in this space, filmmakers taking on projects that require outlandish special effects are limited only by their levels of imagination in this age of computer-generated visual magic.

Like most -- no, make that all -- big-budget productions that pre-order eye-popping effects (an anchor chain cutting a luxury yacht in half, for instance) then try to form the story around the bedazzlement, this "X-Men" overdoes it a little.

Overall, though, this origin adventure should keep audience members on the edge of their seats.  McAvoy, the Scottish rising star, is quite playful at first as a twentysomething Charles Xavier of privilege.

Flip that coin over and German actor  Fassbender is equally effective as Erik Lehnsherr, the metal-bender who will, before this adventure concludes, be called Eric and reply, "I prefer Magneto."

I prefer "X-Men: First Class" to many of the prequels that have come down the cinematic pipeline.
"First Class" is at the head of the 21st century reboot class from this aisle seat.


The Norse god-man who fell to Earth

"Thor" rumbles to the screen sporting hunky rising star Chris Hemsworth from Australia, Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman and Mjolnir, a battle hammer flung down to New Mexico from a Norse mythology god heavens above.

Director Kenneth Branagh is the guy who really puts the fantasy-drama hammer down, though.   Despite the impressive pedigree of the actors, Branagh, the Academy Award-nominated star and director of "Henry V" in 1989, brings at least the feeling of Shakespearian weight and importance to what in reality is a popcorn fantasy action-hero flick born from a Marvel Comics book launched in 1962.

"Thor," like his Marvel cousin "Superman," goes for some somber seriousness in between moments of action-on-steroids.  "The X-Men," "Fantastic Four" and especially "Iron Man" franchises appear in it solely for fun (and, of course, profit) in their bombastic cinematic incarnations.

With a script by a trio of writers and a story by former "Thor" comic scribe J. Michael Straczynski, Branagh tailors "Thor" as Shakespearian by way of Norse mythology:  Hopkins blurts his lines regally, yet with a bluster as Odin, the king of Asgard.  He's war weary, aged and battle-scarred.

In fact, Odin sports an eye patch sort of like Rooster Cogburn's in "True Grit." It's more John Wayne than Jeff Bridges, though.

The classic story pits brother against brother.  And, wouldn't you know it, the king is ripe for assassination.  That's Shakespearian enough to put Branagh in his filmmaking comfort zone.  And the Irish born filmmaker/actor doesn't let us down.  

For those of you who haven't been grabbing every "Thor" comic book to hit the racks since the early '60s, know that Thor (Hemsworth) gets on his royal daddy's bad side on the very day he's supposed to take over the throne.  Brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) may have a little to do with stirring up the Frost Giants across the Rainbow Bridge.

Thor is banished to Earth, where, without his powers, he must fall for a fetching young research scientist (Portman) and eat an entire box of Pop Tarts before even going to a local New Mexico diner for breakfast.

"Thor" is magnificently staged by production designer Bo Welch ("Men in Black"), an Oscar nominee four times over.  It loses a bit of its larger-than-life fantasy voyage buoyancy due to the unnecessary 3-D, which was retro-fitted into a film hardly in need of a plastic-glasses gimmick.

This is an engaging story, even if you're not a comic book-to-big screen fanboy.  That's the best news.

Serious movie lovers will appreciate the way Portman, just off-pointe after completing production on "Black Swan" (her Best Actress Oscar winner), brings a nice balance of science nerd and eligible female.  Even a dedicated scientist can't help noticing how well a pair of earthly jeans hang on a fallen Norse god, apparently.

Hemsworth, who played Kirk in the 2009 "Star Trek" do-over, gets to display a little acting range as he mingles with the Earth-bound humans and gets in a shouting match or two with Papa Odin (Hopkins).

Much of the time, though, it's hammer time for Hemsworth.  He slings it well in a special-effects comic book action flick that'll thrill, grab the heart and even remind some of what a comic book designed by Shakespeare might look like on a movie screen.

To see, or not to see.  That's not the question.

Go.  Eat overpriced movie snacks.  Enjoy some intelligent silliness for a change.


'Hornet's buzz is all wrong, but enjoyable

I got a kick out of "The Green Hornet" for the very reason fanboy comic book geeks and devotees of the former radio drama, serial feature and TV series won't.

In the hands of Seth Rogen, a formerly chubby big screen comic schlub who stars and co-wrote the script, the "Hornet" aims its stinger primarily at the funny bone.

I'm pretty sure that if offbeat French director Michel Gondry ("Human Nature," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") didn't pull back on the creative reins at times, Britt Reid (Rogen) and his gadget guru/weapons creator/coffee chef Kato (Jay Chou) might just hang around the Los Angeles mansion and read comic books about themselves much of the time.

As it is, Britt, who inherits his recently and mysteriously deceased dad's (Tom Wilkinson) newspaper, is a playboy lout stunned into crime fighting as a way to get back at his old man.

Once Britt decides to fight crime, he has no idea what The Green Hornet should do.  So while he's hanging around his late dad's newspaper, Britt hires a new secretary (Cameron Diaz, who keeps hanging in there).  She thinks she's doing research, but actually she's calling Hornet shots.

Rogen and  Chou, an Asian pop music star, play off each other well.  The reason many of the fanboys even care about this big-screen adaptation of "The Green Hornet" is that chop-socky hero Bruce Lee played Kato during its one-season run on ABC in 1966/'67.

Chou, a singer not a martial arts guy, recreates Lee's cool demeanor.  From this aisle seat, though, Chou's lack of English language command dilutes some of the rhythmn of scenes.

The twist here is that Britt and Kato want their own niche for The Green Hornet and his unnamed sidekick.  So they pretend to be bad guys, irritating both the local authorities and L.A.'s unofficial crime lord, a dapper little ruthless guy named Benjamin Chudnofsky portrayed by Christoph Waltz.

If you're anything like me, you'll have to push Waltz's marvelous, Oscar-winning performance in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" in '09 to the far reaches of the memory bank to enjoy what's going on here (pretty silly stuff).  

You should also know that although much is being hyped about "The Green Hornet" being presented in 3-D, that decision was made after principal photography was already in the can.  So the 3-D, with the exception of a fiery explosion or two, is no big whoop.

I may be all alone on this, but I like Rogen's laid-back, goofball turn as the title character.  In a stand-off between The Green Hornet, Batman and Spider-Man, the bat and the spider dude would probably laugh so hard they'd wet their spandex just looking at this masked avenger.

Don't go expecting a superhero flick you will reverently admire.  Go for a film that looks a lot like what a comic book-to-big screen conversion should usually look and feel like.

Just not this time, Seth.  Not that I mind, but the tight-lipped fanboys won't appreciate going for the gags.


Lethal weapons of a certain age

When a high-tech hit squad shows up with weapons blazing to take out the former CIA agent played with the familiar catawampus smile by Bruce Willis, "Red" shows its hand as an action-comedy about -- and possibly for -- 21st century active seniors.

At 55, Willis is more likely to be the target of AARP mailers than flying bullets.  In movie star years and probably CIA operative age as well, though, Willis and his character Frank Moses can certainly be dubbed "old fellas."

The fact that Baby Boomers Willis ("The Expendables"), John Malkovich ("Secretariat") and Helen Mirren ("The Last Station"), not to mention excellent-actor-of-a-certain-age Morgan Freeman (73 playing 80 here) are suddenly taking on rat-a-tat "Bourne" identities is amazing enough.  The notion that "Red" is based on a graphic novel -- usually the superhero stuff of Batman and Spider-Man -- is completely askew of the usual radar.

Yet here they all are, victims of some sort of vaguely construed hit list from previous black ops work down in Guatemala in the 1980s.  Moses, the soft-spoken cool guy, drops by the retirement home to recruit mentor Joe (Morgan).  Eventually, extremely jumpy tech nerd Marvin (Malkovich) and sharpshooter Victoria (Mirren) are lured back in action.

Or as Joe puts it:  "We're getting the band back together."

German director Robert Schwentke ("Flightplan") and sibling screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber ("Whiteout") have their hands full getting the audience to sit still for semi-over-the-hill heroes blasting away with semi-automatics.

For Schwentke, the challenge is slightly less daunting than getting an audience to believe "The Time Traveler's Wife," a previous project.  In that one a time traveler always arrived safely enough, but for some reason he always landed sans clothing.

Oddly, a warm, tender heart thumps throughout "Red."  Moses, while constantly getting the best of the determined current CIA guy William Cooper (Karl Urban) out to kill him (He has his orders), also has a tag-along girlfriend.

Like Cameron Diaz in "Knight and Day," Mary Louise Parker ("Weeds" on TV) plays an innocent (Sarah Ross) dragged into the mayhem.  Sarah falls for shy guy Moses right along with the danger.  That's a nice touch.  It helps balance out the scenery-chewing bad guy played by Richard Dreyfuss and a repetitive barrage of action fireballs.

"Red," probably not unlike some of its senior actors, grows weary before quitting time.

Thirtysomethings calling their foes "old man" and "grandpa" grows whiskers in a hurry.

That's no way to treat your elders, even those you're trying to kill.


'Pilgrim's' progress, then combat overkill

Until it implodes artistically due to battle redundancy overkill about three quarters of the way through, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" rocks the summer movie scene with ferocious style and wry wit.

Film-goers might as well concede that what we see is what we get with Michael Cera.  His on-screen forte is a soft-spoken wimp who exudes charm.

Thanks to "Scott Pilgrim" director/co-writer director Edgar Wright, though, the 22-year-old Canadian corrals that impish charm to serve the movie extremely well.  In fact, Cera is the best I've seen him since he played Ellen Page's shy high school boyfriend Paulie Bleeker in "Juno" in 2007.

Cera could probably get by playing a high schooler into his mid-40s.  Here's a shocker, though.  Cera plays his age in "Scott Pilgrim." That's about the only link to reality you should expect in an outrageous, stylized comic-actioner from Wright, the British filmmaker who brought "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" to the screen.

Based on Canadian Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-pack of graphic novels that debuted in 2004, "Scott Pilgrim" explodes as a musical, yes a musical, for movie-goers who grew up watching music videos and playing Nintendo.  Wright sums the game plan up succinctly in the film's production notes:

"In the world of 'Scott Pilgrim,' minor disagreements are resolved in mortal combat."

What that means for those in the audience is a major re-tooling of the traditional Hollywood musical.  Instead of merely bursting into song (a la Busby Berkeley) to hammer a plot shift home, guitars wail, characters fly through the air in video game-like combat and manga and video game iconography fills the screen.

He may be impish, but out-of-work Toronto garage band (actually apartment band) bass player Scott Pilgrim (Cera) has no problem attracting the ladies.  His old high school girlfriend Kim (Alison Pill of "Dan in Real Life") sits stoic and stone-faced behind his band's drums.

Even though Scott's been out of school for years, he has a current high school girlfriend named Knives Chau (newcomer Ellen Wong), who adores him.  Once purple-haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of "Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof") roller-blades by, however, all young Mr. Pilgrim can think of is Ramona, a recent arrival from the U.S.

All Scott has to do -- much to his surprise -- is defeat Ramona's seven evil exes.

And that's the problem with one of the summer's most refreshing film ideas.  The first evil ex is fun.  Newcomer Satya Bhabha, vamping wildly as Ramona's former junior high school boyfriend Matthew Patel, crashes through the ceiling with a chorus of pointy-teethed evil vamps behind him.

The fact that there are identical twins to deal with helps.  But after a couple of wild video-game send-up combats, I found myself wondering how many more would be coming.  ("Four more?  OMG," as this film's frequent pop-up messages might pronounce.)

Cera is good; finally showing more versatility within his impish persona.  And director Wright brings one of the summer's most stylized, skillfully sly tales to the screen.

Somebody should have pushed the "Game Over" button before clever wit and blasting music vitality implode within itself, though. 


Acting, blazing action a blast in 'Iron Man 2'

The only problem with the first "Iron Man" two years ago was that director Jon Favreau fell into the trap of action extravaganza overkill.  The ultimate battle finale felt like it had more chapters than "War and Peace."

Favreau has learned his lesson.  "Iron Man 2," which rocks with pulsating action and outstanding acting (a rare combination), builds to a spectacular crescendo, then ends on an emotional human note.

In fact, the sequel takes a cue from comic book hero and competitor Superman.  The Man of Steel liked to whisk Lois Lane suddenly skyward and then park on a rooftop for a flirty, "Go ahead, kiss her" chat after the bombastic dust settled.

Screenwriter Justin Theroux's feature film debut came in the outrageously funny "Tropic Thunder," which drew Downey an Oscar nomination.  He takes some chances here that work, like letting this film's lead character get drunk and shame himself with birthday party angry rant.  From a bottom-out low often comes a rise to great heights, however.  Theroux's script manages that. 

"I am Iron Man," billionaire industrialist and former weapons dealer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) proclaims during a press conference that comes at the end the first "Iron Man" and launches the sequel.  You're in for a robust two hours of "Holy s%#*!" action sequences, dandy performances and witty, if at times silly, dialogue.

Six months after the first adventure, admittedly egocentric Stark is flaunting his wealth, his "peacemaker" iron suit with rockets in the heels and his need for flaunting applause at Stark Expo.  His late father put on a similar chest-thumping dog and pony show first, looking a little like vintage Walt Disney talking about Tomorrowland.  Tony's flashy reboot, however, more closely resembles a slightly larger-than-life version of Apple CEO Steve Jobs bestowing the iPad on the world.

The government wants to take Stark's invention away.  So Stark proclaims to the Senate Armed Services Committee (with Garry Shandling chewing the scenery as Sen. Stern) that no possible threat exists that can rival Iron Man, so chill, America.  

Pretty soon after that, a Russian named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) whips up a lightning-whip knock-off version of the Iron Man technology and off we go into grand adventure.

Rourke, nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award in 2009 as the washed-up modern day gladiator in "The Wrestler," is perfectly cast as a vengeful Russian who's way smarter than he looks.

Vanco constantly chews on a toothpick, even when he's slicing race cars apart at the Monaco Grand Prix or plotting Stark's demise.  The camera loves Rourke's craggy face, and the veteran actor -- a survivor of good times and bad -- is rivaled by only one other toothpick chewer in the history of cinema.  That's Paul Newman.

"Iron Man 2," not unlike Stark's flashy computer gadgets, unlimited resources and, of course, the red-and-gold supersuit, borders on being an embarrassment of riches.  The technical effects astound even more this time than the first time around.

Downey, one of the finest actors working today for my money, is super and completely comfortable in the suit and out.  Like his character, Downey is a gifted man who has beat the odds to get where he is.

Few actors can still act engulfed in a formidable costume.  Downey, on screen during the Christmas holidays as the title character in "Sherlock Holmes," is one of them.  Perhaps the finest.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Stark's assistant "Pepper" Potts, and their verbal tête-à-tête is even more finely tuned than it was in '08.

Newcomers, who are all great, include Scarlett Johansson ("The Spirit," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona") kicking hiney and not taking names in a unitard as mystery lady Stark assistant Natalie Rushman.  Also, Sam Rockwell ("Everybody's Fine") struts his stuff quite well as a spoiled, jealous arms manufacturer.

Don Cheadle, nominated for an Oscar for "Hotel Rwanda" in 2004, takes over the role of military liaison Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes seamlessly, like he belonged there all the time.  Cheadle is so good, in fact, that some "Iron Man" fans might be thinking, "Terrence Howard who?"

"Iron Man 2" falls just short of measuring up to the name of its parent franchise company, Marvel.  It's a blast of a superhero action sequel.  It's just that No. 2 must, by definition, revisit a cinematic world now familiar and, therefore, slightly redundant.


A movie that lives up to its 'Kick-A' title

Unfortunately, some movies live down to their titles.

"Kick-Ass," a violent semi-superhero spoof, has no problem living up to the words on the marquee.

If you're looking for a teenage romance with action that really kicks it when it  comes to graphic blood-spilling violence and mayhem, this is one film that won't disappoint.

I refer to this everyboy superhero yarn as a semi-spoof because none of the actors wink at the audience to signal a tongue-in-cheek tone.  On the other hand, director Matthew Vaughn ("Stardust," "Layer Cake") fills his screen with the closest possible connection to a comic book that has suddenly sprung to life.

New York City teen Dave Lizewski (TV/movie actor Aaron Johnson) longs to be a defender of everyman rights in a cool superhero outfit.  The only superpower the self-proclaimed high school geek appears to have, though, is being invisible to girls.

Once his mail-order green (and pretty geeky) superhero arrives, however, Dave gains confidence, takes on a couple of thugs and gets his hiney severely kicked.

The plot, co-written by the director and Jane Goldman based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., is serviceable enough.  Once word gets out about Kick-Ass, a much more lethal father-and-daughter (Nicolas Cage/Chloe Moretz) vigilante team serve as the kid's protector.

Parents need to know that this film is rated R for a very good reason.  It has outbursts of extreme violence.  Also, Moretz, who's 13, goes on a "Kill Bill" like slaughtering spree that might make Quentin Tarantino blush.  If that doesn't do the trick, the serious expletives that roll off her young tongue just might.

"Kick-Ass," with a running time two minutes shy of two hours, hangs around too long to maintain its comic-carnage momentum.

Cage, making his most interesting speech-cadence choice since playing Randy in "Valley Girl" in 1983, has an effective father/daughter rapport with Moretz.  Cage's choice to channel the speech pattern of Adam West, his favorite Batman, when in Big Daddy superhero regalia is unsettling at best.  Thankfully that doesn't last long.

"Kick-Ass" also gets a little lost working in the romantic subplot, although Lyndsy Fonseca (Jennie in "Hot Tub Time Machine") holds up her romantic interest end of the bargain as Katie.

There's also an added bonus for fans of raunchy comedies.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who made a name for himself as supernerd Fogell in "Superbad," gives it a good go as superhero wannabe Red Mist in this wild ride along the blood-splattering action comic-drama highway.


The guy who killed people out in the cold

"Whiteout" is a dramatic thriller that pulsates -- through its deliciously cheesy tone -- to the beat of a horror creature feature.

Don't expect "The Thing," or even "'The Thing' without the monster" as a colleague described (before viewing) this starring vehicle for cinematic tough gal Kate Beckinsale, however.

And there are no warring vampires or werewolves here, as in Beckinsale's popular "Underworld" fantasy series.  Just howling wind, temperatures at minus-120 degrees and, more often than not, whiteout conditions.  That occasionally makes for blurred confusion spotting the bad guy.

The first thing Beckinsale's U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko does after coming in from the body-numbing cold is strip and hop into the shower.  I warned you it was going to be cheesy and provide nods to horror flick sleaze.

Set in the South Pole frozen tundra of Antarctica (but actually shot in Canada), "Whiteout" gets down to the grisly and frigid business of tracking down a killer with a pick ax.  But not until an action-packed pre-credits set piece featuring gunfire aboard a Russian transport plane and a crash that occurred years before.

A quartet of screenwriters and director Dominic Sena waste little time setting the whodunit theme and dangling red herrings (bad guy decoys) amid the growing anxiety of an approaching storm.

Marshal Stetko has her bags packed.  She's ready to end her self-imposed purgatory she began after an arrest got very ugly in Miami when Antarctica's first murder victim is found stuck to the ice.  The clock is ticking on the last flight out for six months.  So time, as they say, is of the essence.

"Whiteout" is more entertainment structured than thriller based, although that bone-splitting ax is sure to figure prominently near the frenzied finale.

Frivolity (Antarctic beach party anyone?) definitely mixes in with the serious stuff.  That's why I chuckled under my breath as the lights went down that they might as well toss The Surfaris' "Wipe Out" into the mix.

Sure enough, "Ha ha ha ha ha wipe out" (not "Whiteout" as I had hoped) shows up as whiskey flows during the beach party scene, but it's a new version by Steve Isles.

This is the kind of thriller you can let your mind wander and have that kind of fun with.  After all, the plot plods its way to a fairly predictable conclusion.

Beckinsale, a qualified enough leading lady, drew a Screen Actor's Award nomination channeling screen legend Ava Gardner in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator."  She barely has to fire up her emoting engines in this one. 
There are a couple of scenes of decent dialogue between veteran actor Tom Skerritt as good ol' Doc. And Beckinsale gets in some spirited almost romantic banter with Gabriel Macht ("The Spirit"), whom she may or may not need to be wary of.

Director Sena ("Swordfish," "Gone in 60 Seconds") called the shots on "Kalifornia" (1993), a dangerous road crime drama I admired.  This one's good for a chilly thrill or two, especially for the mainstream popcorn crowd.


Fanboys to go ga-ga watching 'Watchmen'

Like "Iron Man" last summer, "Watchmen" is a smorgasbord of graphic novel-to-big screen wizardry.

Director Zack Snyder, who went all Spartan on moviegoers with "300" in 2007, is to be applauded and chastised for sticking so closely to the 1986-'87 comic book series by Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons.

Moore, who wanted no part in this attempt to bring his down-and-dirty superheroes to a movie screen, gets the last evil chuckle here.  Unless you live and breathe "Watchmen," you're likely to be dazzled, then frazzled by a hard-to-follow storyline that jumps back and forward like checkers on steroids.

It unfolds in an alternate universe United States circa gloom-and-doom 1985.  Richard Nixon's still in the White House (enjoying his third term) and someone's trying to wipe out a band of outlawed superheroes.

The good news is that "Watchmen" stirs the grit pot admirably with characters like Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup as a supersized member of a warped Blue Man group), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley as the detective behind the inkblot mask), The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson).

While it is a hoot to see Haley and Wilson back together at the fantasy end of the acting spectrum after their harshly real "Little Children" characters of 2006, the movie itself becomes an overindulgent blur after the first hour or so.

On the other hand, if you relish the insertion of pop images in movies, you can expect to be bombarded with everyone and everything from Henry Kissinger to the Vietnam War.  Snyder, employing static images so brief they're borderline subliminal at times, machine-guns pop culture images like the Beatles loading up the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album cover.

"Watchmen" is fast, furious, frenetic and generally well-acted.  It just dwells too long in overkill.

Unless, of course, you're a fanboy.