Flavorless, Odorless, Soul-less
By Lucius Shepard
Under ordinary circumstances I would begin by slagging the producers, the director, the retard actors, everyone associated with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I’d mention their impoverished intellects and impotent imaginations. I’d ridicule their children, slander their girl/boyfriends, talk trash about their housepets…and maybe I’ll get around to that. But first of all I have to admit something: I was all geeked up for this one. In some aberrant plane or dimension, I’ve painted myself silver and fabricated a board from papier mache, and I’m strolling into the theater at the head of gibbering fanboy army. I mean, the Surfer, man. The Herald of Galactus, the gigantic dude in the mauve-and-black power suit who treats planets like hors d’oeuvres. Owner of an FTL fully chromed board and a body to match, resembling the niftiest hood ornament ever. Talks like he’s carrying a portable reverb unit through which he intones neat stuff such as, “All you know is at an end.” Has a mystical, Christ-like cachet and possesses nearly the same absence of expression and inflection as Clint Eastwood.
How cool is that?
So you might assume that I was hoping the movie didn’t suck.
Since making Barbershop, a cliched yet charming little picture about the barbers and clientele of an African-American barbershop, director Tim Story appears to have had something crucial removed at a lobotomy clinic. His subsequent movie, the formulaic dud, Taxi, sought to make a star out of a second-rate comedian named Jimmy Fallon, and compared to Rise of the Silver Surfer, Barbershop had the gravitas of Dostoyevsky and the emotional nuance of Jane Austen. We’re talking about a movie based on a comic book here, about what is commonly described as “summer fun” (review-speak for “schlock”), but using any standard you select, Surfer grades out at a solid F. Given an end-of-the-world scenario, several competent actors, and a heroic villain with the potential for mystery and intrigue of the Surfer, Story and script-hacks Don Payne and Mark Frost (both of whom once did credible work, Payne on The Simpsons and Frost on Twin Peaks and Hill Street Blues) have turned all this into an affect-less jumble of scenes. Story seems to have no idea of how to evoke a mood, let alone sustain one, and thus the specter of cosmic doom plays out as if it were a problem only a tad more consequential than a wedding-day zit on Sue Storm’s (Jessica Alba) forehead, what with the draining of the Thames, the near-destruction of the London Eye, and the splintering of the Great Wall of China being treated as annoying impediments to her union with Mr. Fantastic, Plasticman clone Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud). The plot can be best summarized as a headline:
WORLD ENDS—STORM-RICHARDS NUPTIALS POSTPONED.