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Wipe Out! 

In case there are new readers here who might not have seen my review of Fantastic Four, the 2005 film that started what's undoubtedly going to continue as a franchise series, that one was an automatic entry on my worst-10 films of the year... before it was half over.

Unless something really unexpected comes along during the remainder of 2007, this sequel will be number one on this year's worst list.

As the end credits were, thankfully, finally running this time - after 89 very long minutes - a fellow critic leaned over to me and asked, "Why was this even made?" I calmly told him it was made because the first one grossed nearly $300 million. End of conversation.

But it was a good question. Once again, Hollywood has gone to the seemingly endless well of popular comic books, chosen a much-loved one, and "reinvented" it. That word is in quotes because the word I really want here is "heresy" or "blasphemy."

The story seems to pick up shortly after the last one ended. Nothing much has changed. Our quartet of superheroes is still squabbling and nitpicking and making fun of each other. And, yes, the long-awaited marriage of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, aka Reed Richards and Sue Storm (Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba -- who has somehow made her lips even larger) is about to take place on a Manhattan rooftop.

But wouldn't ya know it -- a blinding white light from outer space is freezing land and sea areas all over the world and leaving gaping craters behind. That's not even counting the unexplained power failures in its wake.

Power shmower. No one cares about that. For heaven's sake, it's the wedding day of the Fantastic Two.

No, someone does care. That would be straight-faced, always perturbed Army Gen. Hager (Andre Braugher, who really needs another TV show if he's gonna get any quality work). There are hints of a rocky past with the brainy Richards when the general comes barging in to the offices of Fantastic Four Incorporated (I didn't make that up). He needs our scientific hero to figure out what's, you know, up there.

Meanwhile, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who died a grisly death in the first film, is hiding out somewhere, knocking off people with a flick of his finger, tracking the sky traveler on a monitor.

Anyone pausing to wonder about what happened to the villainous fellow, like, for instance, why he's alive, is going to leave the theater with no answer. When he's asked about it by one of our heroes, he flippantly changes the subject.

What's worse, the clueless general decides to put Von Doom and "the Four" together in order to bring down the figure that's finally revealed to be the Silver Surfer (deep, melodious voice of Laurence Fishburne, sleek body of Doug Jones). Of course, the two sides hate each other, yet they have no choice but to obey. Of course, it doesn't take long for Von Doom to go all nefarious on everyone.

Ah, but in a movie that chooses not to explain anything, his motives aren't made clear. Neither is it the least bit apparent why physical contact with the Surfer results in a person's molecules going into a "constant state of flux."

Neither - I could go on and on with this - have the writers bothered to work through the Surfer's sudden change from destroyer of planets to sympathetic victim to the never-seen Galacticus (maybe the $130 million budget wasn't big enough for that effect).

Yet there are a couple of extravagant, very brief, visual effects sequences. And McMahon gives us a nice dose of smarminess as Von Doom. The rest of the acting is nothing to waste ink on, though. Gruffudd is so stiff in the part, he makes Alba look like a Shakespearean genius. Chris Evans has a nice impish smile as the Human Torch, but he does more posing than anything else. And poor Michael Chiklis, spouting off one-liners as the Thing, is, at best, slumming here.

You might wonder what Fantastic Four creator Stan Lee has to say about this debacle, but you won't have to wonder too long. He makes an embarrassing cameo near the beginning, as a wedding crasher who's turned away, and starts whining, "But I'm Stan Lee! I'm Stan Lee." Right now, I'm thinking about the writers and director, and in my mind, it's clobberin' time.

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