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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer/Nancy Drew 

Mark Palermo wishes it was 1999.

Nineteen ninety-nine—the last really great movie summer—had pop culture looking forward. The best movies (The Matrix, South Park, Eyes Wide Shut, The Iron Giant) were sometimes transcendent. Blockbusters like Deep Blue Sea and The Sixth Sense were fulfilling. And the fatally hyped The Phantom Menace and The Blair Witch Project were still worthwhile and unmissable. Nineteen ninety-nine felt like the movies of tomorrow.

Someone should have checked the expiration dates on the summer movies of 2007. The settle-for-nothing attitude of resurrected brand names Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Fantastic Four, Ocean's Eleven, Shrek and Nancy Drew defines studio laziness. Rather than reviving what's old as something new, the loudest expressions in pop are presently the most outmoded.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Nancy Drew are movies for children. But that doesn't excuse them. Why hand Fantastic Four, a comic book property, to a director with as little visual energy as Tim Story? His talking-head coverage, permissible for Barbershop and Taxi, doesn't place this adventure in a unique world. Perhaps the easygoing vibe of the sequel could be seen as a refreshing break from weeks of blockbuster bombast. When the result looks and speaks like a bad 1960s TV series, it's just a different brand of tedium. Rise of the Silver Surfer is never more exciting than an episode of Jonny Quest, and it's every bit as corny.

Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis look like a team when they're standing together. What's missing is a sense of freak cameraderie. The opportunity to deepen character relations and thematic binds is worth nothing. Goofy chatter routinely overtakes the film. Story loses his characters' struggle to fit in with the world they're protecting.

There's a sleek look to the climate-altering Silver Surfer (Doug Jones), a mysterious figure with ties to the destructive creature Galactus. But the special effects don't bring us anywhere Terminator 2's liquid metal didn't. Only the comedic delivery of Evans and Chiklis finds the movie in control.

Fantastic Four doesn't do much that's offensive (save Story's inexplicable power to make Alba less attractive). It takes no risks, so it leads nowhere.

It wasn't until around "89/'90 that the lack of preteens' critical faculties became exploited with regularity. The difference is Mac and Me, Ghost Dad, Problem Child and Suburban Commando weren't big tentpole releases. Staring into the void of Nancy Drew makes for a curious theatre experience. It's a brand name without a movie to attach itself.

By moving Drew, the teenage sleuth of Carolyn Keene's popular children's novels, to a contemporary high school setting, the movie misses the period details that would have made its youth-flick conventions unique. Relocating with her single father to the land of Hollywood wealth, Nancy Drew just plays as a developmentally stunted version of Veronica Mars. The value of Keene's books is that they empower readers by reversing "respect your elders" teachings as the kid hero exposes corruption in authority. Performed by Emma Roberts, Drew's wits are turned to a subservient precocity. Her mystery addiction draws her to the case of a deceased film star (Laura Elena Harring), as if this film's audience has vested interest in Hollywood's past politics. Nancy Drew's repeated bad ideas create a misshapen reality, too dull to be surreal.

Send precocious emails his way. Write: palermo@thecoast.ca.

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