'Fantastic Four' Settles for OK

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT SOERGEL

Fantastic Four is a big, square slice of cheese, slightly moldy around the edges.

Still, it has some appeal, if only for its idiosyncracies: At a time when most comic-book movies want to push the angst and the darkness, it's a jokey, retro romp with mundane special effects that wouldn't have been out of place in the corny '70s.

Fans of the Marvel comic have been waiting a long time for this; they'll be rewarded with a few inside jokes and a cameo by Stan Lee, but aren't likely to find that worth the wait.

The story's a familiar one, following astronauts who are caught in a solar storm that messes with their DNA.

Brainy Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) becomes rubbery, stretchy Mr. Fantastic. Big palooka Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) becomes the hulking, super-strong Thing, who now gets his clothes at the Men's Big and Tall store.

Then there's a good-looking brother-sister team. Jessica Alba is the gorgeous scientist Susan Storm, who becomes The Invisible Woman (though her clothes stay visible, so she has to take them off). And Chris Evans is a cocky extreme-sports kind of guy named Johnny Storm, who transforms into the Human Torch.

Also along for the ride, in the movie version at least, is the deliciously named industrialist Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who transforms into a evil metal genius named . . . um, where are my notes? . . . Doctor Doom.

This kind of stuff is good for some chuckles, and Fantastic Four is decent entertainment for the first hour or so.

Though the movie never is in danger of brushing greatness, it has its amusing moments: The Human Torch pops popcorn in his palm, and the stretchy guy can reach out of the bathroom, across the hall and into a closet for a roll of tissue paper.

But then it hits a long dry stretch as the new superheroes try desperately to become unsuper. That's kind of a drag, as they bicker and moan about their superpowers, squabbling and hiding out from the media and the adoring public. …