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Nobody's Perfect


Nobody's Perfect















  

Could Jones have saved Batman & Robin? He didn't manage it with Batman Forever—never was there a more ominous title—and it seems increasingly likely that the Batman pictures will swallow and regurgitate any actor who tries to get in their way. Batman & Robin is the fourth Warner Brothers installment, but it feels like the forty-fourth. Is it really only two years since Chris O'Donnell tried to convince us, and himself, that he looked good in leather? He is one of the old hands in this movie; newcomers include George Clooney as Batman, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman as a pair of fresh villains—Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. This is quite a lineup, boasting a broad choice of dramatic styles, and what lends the movie cohesion and integrity is the fact that all those involved have come up with their worst imaginable performances. Even Clooney's bedroom smile makes no impact; if anything, I suspect an imminent case of Caruso syndrome, which causes actors to quit well-written TV shows in favor of movies that are barely written at all. The guilty party in Batman & Robin is Akiva Goldsman, whose script is a magnificent anthology of duds. I was especially pleased to learn that Batgirl had attended "Oxbridge Academy." Would that be in Royal England?

The plot is all about our old friend global domination. "First Gotham, and then...the world!" cries Mr. Freeze, whose hobbies consist of blasting innocent people with his ice gun, exclaiming "Ha-ha-ha!," and, in his quieter moments, stealing diamonds, which he then plugs into himself as if they were batteries. In his quest for power, Mr. Freeze joins forces with Poison Ivy, a former research scientist, whose principal weapons of mass destruction are bad breath and bright-green pantyhose. Poor Uma Thurman; Goldsman wrote a few speeches for her but forgot to provide anyone she could address them to, so she wanders round delivering monologues in a void, stopping her sentences in odd. Places in order to. Make them. Sound strange and vol. Uptuous.

The action sequences, one of which is apparently modelled on Starlight Express, are choreographed with so little care that it's impossible to work out who is doing what to whom. You sit there feeling brain-damaged and praying for the mayhem to cease; when it finally does, along comes one of the quiet and thoughtful scenes, which are somehow even worse. It is tempting to dismiss Batman & Robin as simply inept, but the crassness goes deeper than that. I thought I smelled something truly corrupt in this film: its expectation of what we expect from movies is so low and snarling that you come out feeling not just swindled but mildly humiliated. In its blending of the humorless and the apocalyptic, in the intolerance that it borrows from its own bad guys, and in its strutting preference for superhuman grandeur over the small scale of human activity, Batman & Robin inches close to a fascist aesthetic. Also, the back projection looks crummy. And Alicia Silverstone should stop chewing her lip.
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Excerpted from Nobody's Perfect by Anthony Lane. Copyright © 2002 by Anthony Lane. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.