`Batman' Bites! -- `Er's' Clooney Brings His Bedside Manner To This Cloyingly Cuddly Caped Crusader

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XX "Batman & Robin," with George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone. Directed by Joel Schumacher, from a script by Akiva Goldsman. Alderwood, Auburn Cinema 17, Bella Bottega 7, Crossroads, Everett 9, Factoria, Issaquah 9, Kent 6, Lewis & Clark, Meridian 16, Metro, Mountlake 9, Oak Tree, Renton Village, SeaTac Mall, SeaTac North, South Hill Mall, Totem Lake, Valley drive-in. 130 minutes. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised because of "strong stylized action and some innuendos."

Fourth time's not the charm in this rambling sequel, which gets off to a roaring start, then quite literally crashes.

Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), whose silver-blue gun instantly turns people into icicles, engages Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) in an ice-skating battle that escalates when he takes off in a spaceship with Batman trapped inside and Robin clinging to the ship's rapidly cooling exterior.

A complicated situation turns more so when Robin finds a way inside, Mr. Freeze abandons ship, the vehicle is set to detonate, and all three find a novel way back to Gotham City. This opening sequence is scary, exhilarating and utter nonsense.

It promises plenty of mindless summer-sequel fun, in the style of "The Lost World" rather than "Speed 2," yet nothing else comes close to matching its excitement or casual absurdity. There's no

narrative hook to carry the picture for two-hours-plus, and most of the new additions to the cast have zero impact.

In place of the enigmatic, neurotic Batman previously played by Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer, we get George Clooney, who plays him as Mr. Nice Guy. When the script turns sappy, as it tends to do in the second half, this begins to look like a particularly inappropriate choice. Once the mush starts flowing, Clooney doesn't know how to stop it or wink at it, and the picture grinds to a halt.

Elle MacPherson turns up as Julie Madison, the most perfunctory of Batman's girlfriends. It's a shock to discover they've been dating for a year; they barely seem to exist on the same planet. Alicia Silverstone is game enough as Batgirl, but in spite of a few flashes of naughtiness, the script lets her down.

Schwarzenegger is not at all a bad choice for the chief villain, and his makeup and costumes are pretty wonderful. But he's not given enough to do after that first battle, and his threats begin to sound empty.

More successful is Uma Thurman, whose lethal bad girl, Poison Ivy, steals what's left of the show. She vamps her way through the final scenes, appearing Dietrich-like in a gorilla suit, brassily declaring her sexual powers ("I really am to die for") and tempting the hormone-driven Robin to abandon the increasingly exasperated Batman, who wonders why "all the gorgeous ones are homicidal maniacs."

Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman spends more time creating chill-out jokes ("The iceman cometh," declares Mr. Freeze) and frosty one-liners ("Who killed the dinosaurs? The ice age") than he does constructing a workable plot. You get the feeling he's working from a thesaurus or a book of Mr. Freeze puns; the actors have a difficult time making them sound fresh.

Clooney and the director, Joel Schumacher, are already threatening a fifth installment. Perhaps it's time to get back to basics and examine what made this series work - at first.

Tim Burton's inspired, noirish "Batman" (1989) overturned the campy cliches of the 1960s television series and the Z-movie cheapness of the 1940s serials based on Bob Kane's DC Comics. But it led three years later to Burton's depressed "Batman Returns," which suggested that neither Burton nor Keaton were interested in repeating themselves. Both bailed when Warner Bros. decided to make another sequel, and Kilmer and Schumacher took over the franchise in 1995.

Schumacher's "Batman Forever" was a mess, but it wasn't as deliberately unpleasant as Burton's follow-up film, so it was more popular. Hence we have Schumacher again, just two years after the last installment.

The longest Batman movie to date, "Batman & Robin" is also the most expensive. Variety recently estimated that the total cost will hit $160 million; apparently $25 million of that went to Schwarzenegger, who gets top billing. At this rate, if the next one doesn't gross $1 billion, it will be considered a loser.

------------------------ `Batman' - 1960s and now ------------------------


Played by: Alicia Silverstone.

Description: Coed biker in knee socks; Alfred's niece.

Been known to say: "You're about to become compost."

Specialty: Asserting herself. OLD BATGIRL

Played by: Yvonne Craig.

Description: Librarian biker in knee socks; Commissioner Gordon's daughter.

Been known to say: "There's one thing you don't have in your utility belt, Batman: a woman's intuition."

Specialty: Being in peril.


Played by: Chris O'Donnell.

Description: Rebel with shoulder chip.

Been known to say: "Aren't we partners, Bruce?"

Specialty: Bait/reckless youth. OLD ROBIN

Played by: Burt Ward.

Description: Youthful ward of Wayne.

Been known to say: "Holy (insert noun), Batman!"

Specialty: Hostage/bait.


Played by: George Clooney.

Description: Schizophrenic with disposable income.

Been known to say: "Why are all the gorgeous ones homicidal maniacs? Is it me?"

Specialty: Playing second fiddle to supervillains. OLD BATMAN

Played by: Adam West.

Description: Slightly paunchy Caped Crusader who invented Batusi.

Been known to say: "BIFF! THWAPPP!"

Specialty: Bad puns; figuring out really hard riddles.


Played by: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Description: Austrian accent with steroid chest knobs in cold suit.

Been known to say: "Let's kick some ice."

Specialty: Bad cold puns. OLD MR. FREEZE

Played by: Otto Preminger, others.

Description: German accent with twisty chest knobs on cold suit.

Been known to say: "Turn my knob, darling, I'm boiling."

Specialty: Bad cold puns.