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Movie review: The style makes the Batman

June 25, 1997

In "Batman & Robin" director Joel Schumacher paints a colorful Gotham and peoples it with the Caped Crusader (George Clooney this time around), sidekick Robin (Chris O'Donnell), Batgirl Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone), and ultra-villains Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and Mr. Freeze (Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger).

Freeze and Ivy team up to eradicate Gotham and its population by blanketing it in ice and rejuvenating it as a botanical garden. Lots of fighting between Batman, Batgirl and Robin, and the villains, ensues.

Paul: The only way to see this film is through comic book goggles. The opening scene - fraught with meticulously choreographed kicking and punching, `pows' and `zings', and hokey one-liners - sets the tone. Sure, it's beyond the realm of logical comprehension, but it's zany fun and visually stunning.

Jason: "Batman & Robin" is technically dazzling - it's so over-produced that it comes off as a go-for-the-throat, annoying bore. Schumacher so relentlessly fills the screen with his gawdy set-pieces that there is no room for story or character.

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Where Tim Burton (director of the first two installments) had a wicked sense for the macabre and magical, Schumacher is only interested in incongruous, giddy action. The movies are no longer about Batman and his struggles against evil and his own inner demons, but how outrageously big the look is.

Paul: It's true that Burton's original "Batman" is a modern masterpiece of pop culture cinema, but Schumacher is working in the context of the sequel.

The story is diluted greatly by now; however, the movie never pretends that it is anything more than a piece of pop candy. As far as the main man himself, George Clooney respectably fills the increasingly tighter suit that Val Kilmer ("Batman Forever") floundered in and abandoned. Clooney possesses Bruce Wayne's debonair qualities, albeit he does lack the sense of internal disturbance that the "real" Bruce Wayne carries.

Jason: Akiva Goldsmith's script efficiently jettisons any promise of character or dialogue in the first scene, when the Dynamic Duo are reduced to men in cod-pieces, and Mr. Freeze is established as a nonscary bad guy who spews awful puns like "You're not putting me in the cooler" and "stay cool."

Poison Ivy is a no-dimensional vixen, and pretentious and contrived as played by Thurman. The story is terribly clunky, and is poorly pushed along with weak attempts at emotional interest including subplots of ailing Alfred the butler (Michael Gough), a romantic (?) interlude (Elle McPherson, creating such chemistry as Bruce's lady love) and a lovers' quarrel between Batman and Robin.

Paul: And that quarrel is over Thurman's Poison Ivy, who was stupendously sexy even though she was just spouting standard comic book quotes. She's quite effective at the art of seduction, and throws a little friction between our two male heroes.

So, you must keep this one in perspective, because there are enough tidbits, like Poison Ivy, to keep it interesting, and we all know it's not to be taken seriously.

Whether you enjoy "Batman & Robin" as comic book camp, or deplore it as a loud, sleek blank shot, you have to admit that the Batman series is flying on wounded wings.

Jason Myers is a senior at North Hagerstown High School. Paul A. Smith works in The Herald-Mail circulation department.

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