The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, June 17, 1995                TAG: 9506170050
TYPE: Movie Review 
                                             LENGTH: Long  :  106 lines


THEY USED TO SAY ``If it isn't broken, don't fix it.'' In Hollywood, when a franchise has to meet the challenge of its third go-round, they say, ``Fix it anyway - just in case.''

Re-invent. Re-imagine. Re-cast.

``Batman Forever,'' the third ``Batman'' flick, has a new cast, a new director and a new, lighter, more cartoonish look. With a budget of $80 million, it also has state-of-the-art special effects and a record number of sets that give Gotham a cavernous but neon-lit look it didn't have in the other, much darker, films. It all moves so fast, and is so noisy, that you may not quite notice that there is really no plot or involvement. If you're going to be run over by a steamroller, this is the steamroller that is most likely to do it in this summer's parade of sure-bet hits.

If the first two films were more adult and quirky than anticipated, rest assured that this one is exactly what you might have expected in the first place. Joel Schumacher, the new director, has decided to take the obvious and do the obvious with it. His look at the Caped Crusader is more colorful, louder, brasher and a good deal more outright fun. There are more straight-on ``jokes'' and less duality.

Schumacher is a director (``Flatliners,'' ``The Lost Boys'') known more for style than substance. He is an obvious choice to counter what producers (and many parents) thought was the too-violent and too-dark second film, 1992's ``Batman Returns.'' With Michelle Pfeiffer as a pretty kinky Catwoman and a Penguin so evil he scared the kiddies, the studio was getting nervous about director Tim Burton. ``Batman Returns'' was a hit, but it raked in only half what the first film did.

Still, there are those of us who miss the darker, mischievously noir look of Burton's style as we sit through the two hours of chaotic overkill that is ``Batman Forever.'' Most regrettably missing from the new film is Danny Elfman's brooding musical score. It has been replaced by a noisier, less intriguing composition by Elliot Goldenthal.

There are so many new characters and so many introductions to be made that it takes well over an hour just to get the cast in place. This film has more exposition than any Greek tragedy, with less payoff in the third act.

The background of Two-Face has to be explained. He's former district attorney Harvey Dent, who got scarred with acid when Batman didn't arrive in time to rescue him. He blames Batman and seeks revenge.

The background of the Riddler has to be explained. He's nerdy inventor Edward Nygma, who worships billionaire Bruce Wayne until his invention, a brain manipulator to be attached to TV sets, is rejected.

And there's the background of Robin, the boy wonder who finally makes an appearance. He is Dick Grayson, a circus acrobat whose entire family is killed by Two-Face during a performance.

Even Batman's background is trotted out, even though it was explained in the first film. We see a flashback to the death of his parents and his first encounter with a bat.

With all these introductions, there is little time for anything new.

Val Kilmer takes over the role of the Caped Crusader that was vacated by Michael Keaton. He has a more heroic look, but he's icy cool and straight-arrow. Like Keaton, Kilmer seems stymied by the fact that Batman has less to do than the villains. He is perhaps better as the Dark Knight, but he doesn't seem as comfortable in Bruce Wayne's tuxedo.

Chris O'Donnell is OK as Robin, portraying a boyish orphan who is much more punkish and street smart than his usual nice-boy roles. In fact, the writers are so intent on re-making Robin that he now gets a muscle suit of his own rather than the colorful tights of old. The punk stuff is a bit overdone, but it meets the writers' apparent obsession with making Robin an equal who will take no mess, even from Batman.

Jim Carrey is something of a disappointment as the Riddler. The role is a natural for his over-the-top mugging, but it somehow seems out of place when he isn't really the center of the film. At all times, you're aware that he's playing the Jim Carrey character and never the Riddler. His wiry movements, though, are wild and he has several good lines.

The less said about poor Tommy Lee Jones' outing as Two-Face the better. Jones is not a natural comic, and it is embarrassing to watch Carrey outmaneuver him in every scene. Jones is left with nothing to do but wear the make-up and scream a lot about how he wants Batman to die.

Nicole Kidman is a red-lipsticked knockout as the leading lady, Dr. Chase Meridian, a criminal psychologist who first has the hots for the Dark Knight, and then for Bruce Wayne. She, like everyone else in the crowded cast, has little to do but she does it with an open-lipped expectation of passion.

Michael Gough is a fine antidote to all the noise in his return as Bruce Wayne's butler. The only other holdover from the earlier films is Pat Hingle as police commissioner James Gordon. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar have brief walk-ons as Sugar and Spice, Two-Face's sidekicks who are meant to be sirens.

Tim Burton was a co-producer, but the aim here seems mainly to meet box office needs rather than to further the distinctive look. The ruse will surely work. Nothing could stop this from becoming a big hit, even though viewers may be exhausted and bewildered at the incoherency of it all before the two hours have run out. At Oscar time, the stars will be Barbara Ling's production design, Bob Ringwood's costumes and John Dykstra's supervision of the visual effects. The Batmobile simply rolls over us. ILLUSTRATION: [Color Photo]

Val Kilmer and Chris O'Donnell portray Batman and Robin in the

latest movie in the popular series.


Cast: Val Kilmer, Chris O'Donnell, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey

Director: Joel Schumacher

MPAA rating: PG-13 (cartoonish action, stylized violence)

Mal's rating ***

by CNB