The ads for "Batman And Robin" scream "the event of the summer is here"
and that's the problem. The producers were apparently so intent on
creating a spectacle that they forgot to put an actual movie inside of it.
"Batman And Robin" is 126 minutes of lavish sets, flashy costumes and
big, confusing fight scenes with barely a hint of substance. It's like
one of those cheesy Kings Island stage shows; bright, busy and visually
diverting, but not very much fun.
It wasn't always this way. Tim Burton's "Batman" was an epic story of
obsession and duality, of darkness and revenge. The film, while far from
perfect, was a striking mood piece with an otherworldly feel. Batman was
a creepy, brooding creature of the night. The Joker, brilliantly
overplayed by Jack Nicholson, was at once charismatic and repellent.
Batman and the Joker were opposite sides of the same coin, battling inner
demons and one another over Gotham City's breathtaking gothic skyline.
Those days of the Dark Knight are gone, replaced by a psychedelic Ice
Capades run amuck. "Batman And Robin" has far more in common with the
campy 60's Batman TV show than with Tim Burton's tale of darkness.
The blame lies with director Joel Schumacher. A former window-dresser,
Schumacher is adept at decorating sets and dressing people in exotic
costumes. Unfortunately, when it comes time to have those people walk and
talk, he hasn't the faintest notion of what to do. "Batman And Robin" is
overstuffed with intricately choreographed fight scenes so poorly edited
that it's often difficult to tell who's whacking who. While the
characters flail at each other, one-liners and bad puns are tossed about
like confetti. A few carefully placed jokes can set an action movie
sailing, but too many wisecracks can undermine the momentum of a film.
"Batman And Robin" doesn't merely lose momentum, it stalls out completely
on several occasions. It's rare to see an action flick as sluggish as
Ironically, the parts of "Batman And Robin" that work are the ones
showing the characters in street clothing, and most of those succeed
because of George Clooney as Bruce Wayne. Easily the best Batman yet,
Clooney's expressive eyes and weary smile gives the character a sense of
depth that the script doesn't even hint at. The film's most effective
scene is a tender, quiet exchange between Clooney and Alfred (Michael
Gough), Bruce Wayne's butler and surrogate father.
As for the other heroes, Chris O'Donnell's Robin is enthusiastic, perky
and horny as hell, while pudgy Alicia Silverstone is hard to accept as an
athlete in her debut as Batgirl. In a movie filled to the brim with major
characters, the decision to add the entirely unnecessary Batgirl and Elle
Macpherson as Bruce Wayne's girlfriend is puzzling. I suspect the
producers inserted the women in an attempt to convince audiences that two
guys who run around in rubber suits with built-in nipples, shapely
buttocks and huge codpieces are actually straight.
Of course, the real stars of a Batman film are the villains and that's
where "Batman And Robin" really suffers. As Mr. Freeze, Arnold
Schwarzenegger gives his worst performance in years, spitting out a
stream of lame catch phrases in wooden fashion. Laboring under a ton of
appliances, Schwarzenegger looks as if he's having trouble even moving in
his suit, let alone trying to act. Uma Thurman fares somewhat better as
Poison Ivy. She overacts terribly in the early establishing scenes of her
character (it's apparently a rule in the Batman series that before a
person becomes a villain, s/he must be a cartoonish, bumbling nerd). Once
Thurman transforms into the eco-psychotic Poison Ivy, she does a nice Mae
West impersonation as a classic vamp who can seduce men with her breath
and kill them with a kiss. Thurman fails to maintain the character's
maniacal sense of style though, and ends up merely sputtering her way
through the latter scenes of the film.
The biggest lesson to be learned from "Batman And Robin" is that more is
not better. Joel Schumacher fills the screen with eye candy; but the
Technicolor overkill merely emphasizes what a trifle the film really is.
Some critics suggest that the Batman series has run out of steam. I don't
think so. My prescription? Fire Joel Schumacher (but offer him a ticket
to a rubber fetishist's convention so he'll understand that there's no
hard feelings). Give Alicia Silverstone her walking papers, while keeping
Clooney, O'Donnell and Michael Gough. Call Jack Nicholson and Michelle
Pfieffer and beg them to reprise their roles as the Joker and Catwoman.
Then, ditch the campiness and, for the love of Pete, lose the "Event"
mentality and make a movie instead of a spectacle next time.
Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott