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BATMAN FOREVER/BATMAN & ROBIN

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 10, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, Fathom Events brought the two ‘Batman’ movies by director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton back to the big screen, each for one-day showings at select local Cinemark and Megaplex theaters. This week it’s director Joel Schumacher, and stars Val Kilmer and George Clooney’s turn as ‘Batman Forever’ and 'Batman & Robin’ are shown, respectively, on Sunday, May 12, and Tuesday, May 14. Below are my reviews for both films, published in the Deseret News respectively on June 16, 1995, and June 20, 1997.

     

BATMAN FOREVER: Riddle me this: What's critic-proof, will set opening-day box-office records and simply cannot be too loud or bombastic for its audience?

OK, so maybe that's a grade-school question.

But in the cinematic world of commercial cunning, "Batman Forever" would seem to have all the elements properly fitted together.

Where pictures like "Die Hard With a Vengeance," with its R-rated excesses and racial pretensions, and "Casper," a comedy for the preteen set that somehow feels the need to explore the afterlife, will probably do a slow fade after early box-office splashes, "Batman Forever" seems more likely to hang on throughout the summer — and beyond — simply because it is so satisfied with being just what it is.

The motion picture equivalent of a Twinkie, this is simple, high-cholesterol entertainment that doesn't pretend to be anything else. But it's also a fast-paced, visually stunning, wild-eyed action flick that has cleaned up the language, violence and sexuality enough that parents won't mind if their kids go back to see it again. And again. And again.

This time out, our psychologically damaged superhero (played by Val Kilmer, whose lips make him look like Michael Keaton when he's under the mask) is the object of revenge by a pair of very different villains — Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey), who eventually team up to go after him.

Two-Face is former Gotham prosecutor Harvey Dent (played by Billy Dee Williams in the first film), who blames the Dark Knight for his face being horribly scarred on one side, which has contributed to his dual — and dueling — personality. And The Riddler is actually Edward Nygma, a nutty professor who works for Wayne Enterprises until an obsessive invention — a machine that sucks brain waves out of television watchers — pushes him over the edge.

Plotwise, that's about it. And there's no question that the film would be more satisfying if it had pursued the latter element, going for some media satire.

There are also two major subplots worth noting. The first sets up the partnership between Batman and Robin (Chris O'Donnell), a circus performer whose family is killed by Two-Face. And the second is Batman's tentative romance with psychiatrist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), who first falls for the masked man, then his alter ego.

     

Tommy Lee Jones, left, Jim Carrey, 'Batman Forever'

But let's face it, "Batman Forever" is little more than a stunt-driven thrill ride, and in that regard director Joel Schumacher ("The Client," "Flatliners") pushes all the right buttons.

The razzle-dazzle art deco variation of Gotham City, the garish colors conjured up for parties and street life (with one scene that seems to owe something to Walter Hill's "The Warriors"), the eerie recesses of Wayne Manor, the crazy chases, fights and rescues and gadgets that would make James Bond feel envious — all are thrilling and amusing, if a bit dizzying.

Kilmer is good as Batman, though one could argue that Keaton brought the character more dimension and a welcome bit of quirkiness, and Kidman is luscious as the most unlikely psychiatrist we've seen in the movies in some time. And it's nice to see two returning players — the only two who have been in all three "Batman" movies — Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and especially Michael Gough as Alfred.

Jones obviously relishes his role, which is maniacally over the top, but he's outgunned by the wacky Carrey, whose prancing, mugging and wacky one-liners steal every scene he's in. O'Donnell also manages to stand out in a picture that seems a bit crowded.

Violent but bloodless, loud but not profane, this second sequel seems to have learned from the parental backlash earned by "Batman Returns." It's kid-friendly. At the same time, there are enough in-jokes (including a reference to the old "Batman" television show and a nod to "Superman") to appeal to their parents.

There will no doubt be some in the audience who will feel that the frantic editing and overloaded woofers and tweeters make for a headache-inducing experience. But even if a slight headache hovers, there is no question that this is exhilarating fun.

Twinkies are enjoyable once in awhile.

"Batman Forever" is rated PG-13 for considerable violence, as well as a few mildly vulgar remarks (double-entendres from The Riddler).

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: ‘Batman Forever’ was indeed a blockbuster, No. 2 for the year on the box-office charts (very closely following ‘Toy Story’), but my prognostication skills failed me with both ‘Casper’ and ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance,’ which were also big hits, both landing in the year’s top 10 biggest moneymakers.

     

BATMAN & ROBIN: "Batman & Robin" should actually be titled "Batman & Robin & Batgirl & Mr. Freeze & Poison Ivy & Dr. Woodrue & Bane."

But that would be almost as hard to get on a marquee as "Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Here we go again — another Batman movie with too many villains and too many heroes. The clutter is headache-inducing.

As with the first "Batman" movie, the villain gets top billing, and the hero places second. It's Schwarzenegger and then George Clooney, in his debut as the black-rubber hunk. And they ain't no Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton.

Schwarzenegger is Mr. Freeze, and he dominates the movie in a "RoboCop"-like suit of armor, making every possible pun on words associated with "cold" — "The iceman cometh," "You're not sending me to the cooler!,' etc.

Freeze is a demented scientist who, through a freak accident, needs the special "cryo-suit" that keeps his body temperature at zero. And his primary weapon is a gun that turns people into ice sculptures. (He also has an evil hockey team on his side.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Gotham universe, a nerdy botanist (Uma Thurman) gets doused with a potion of her own creation, which replaces her blood with aloe, her skin with chlorophyll and moistens her lips with venom. She is now villainess Poison Ivy.

Ivy's first victim is her mentor, evil Dr. Woodrue (John Glover), and she takes his hulking monster Bane (Jeep Swenson) as her henchman/bodyguard.

As you might guess, it isn't long before they join forces with Freeze, and the trio goes up against Batman (Clooney) and his sidekick Robin (Chris O'Donnell) in Gotham City.

Meanwhile, subplots abound, as reckless Robin complains that Batman doesn't trust him; their faithful manservant Alfred (Michael Gough) contracts a fatal disease and searches for a relative to take over his work; Alfred's niece, Barbara (Alicia Silverstone), comes to Wayne Manor, sneaking away at night to race motorcycles with evil gang members (who seem to be straight out of "A Clockwork Orange," led by rapper Coolio); Barbara eventually becomes Batgirl, donning a rubber suit of her own; and Bruce tries to make time with his girlfriend (Elle Macpherson, who does nothing but stand around and reveal cleavage).

     

Arnold Schwarzenegger, left, Uma Thurman, 'Batman & Robin'

There's more, but you get the idea. Jumbled, crowded and in a constant state of confusion, "Batman & Robin" never slows down to think about what it's doing. Any plot points feel like afterthoughts.

Director Joel Schumacher, as with "Batman Forever," keeps things moving at a rapid clip but often shoots the chaos with mobile cameras, slanted angles and closeups so extreme that it's hard to tell what precisely is going on. (Welcome to the summer of '97.)

Clooney barely registers as Batman but it's not his fault. He is unable to do anything with the character, thanks to the sheer weight of everything that surrounds him. Instead of dialogue, he speaks in quips. When Robin whines that he doesn't feel appreciated, Batman's one-liner response is, "This is why Superman works alone."

O'Donnell is merely adequate; Silverstone is awful. And Schwarzenegger just plods along, dropping his idiotic "cold" puns as if he's "The Terminator" programmed to tell jokes.

Rising above all this is Thurman, who gives her Poison Ivy character some hilarious goofball twists. She is at turns sexy and scary, adopting an offbeat Mae West voice … with a twang. She is so good she belongs in some other movie. Any other movie.

As with the previous "Batman" films, the opening sequence here is self-reverential, with shots of certain parts of Batman and Robin's thick rubber body suits in closeup — pecs, nipples, buns, codpiece, etc. Later, when Batgirl swings into action, her rubber body suit parts also get closeups.

So here's the question. Do they all shop at the same Fetishes-R-Us?

"Batman & Robin" is rated PG-13 for considerable violence, some vulgarity and one mild profanity spoken a couple of times.