'Superman Returns': Superhero Broods, Breeds
Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" got its big press airing last night in multiple screenings. Even though Warner Bros. has been keen to flack positive reviews from the trades and the newsweeklies, there’s a lot more to say about this $300 million epic that opens next Wednesday.
For one thing, I don't know why in the world this edition of "Superman" was adopted by the gay community. Director Singer is gay, and his point of view comes across fairly often, but neither Superman the character nor his new portrayer, Brandon Routh, seem especially sexual in any direction. Singer seems more interested in creating a Christ-like icon out of Superman, which is certainly unique.
But Superman, aka Clark Kent in "Superman Returns" is just as much of a dork as he was in the first two films that starred Christopher Reeve and were directed by Richard Donner.
The early revelation that Lois Lane has a child the same age as the amount of time he’s been away makes absolutely no visible impact on Clark. If he ever slept with Lois in "Superman II," he seems either to have forgotten or not realized the consequences.
The one thing Routh has going for him is that he looks a lot like Chris Reeve. Other than that, his acting hasn’t changed much since his short, cardboard-like stint on "One Life to Live."
Singer is content with using him as sort of a prop, and moving everyone else around him. It’s not that Routh is bad or embarrasses himself. He does neither. But dynamic is not a word that comes to mind, either.
Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane actually fares much worse. She is very bland, lacking any of the zip Margot Kidder gave to the role in the films or Teri Hatcher in the "Lois and Clark" TV series.
She is sass-less, but then again, so is the wearisome script by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and Singer. Their dialogue is either suffocating or absent. After all, Lois has supposedly won a Pulitzer Prize. But she's as witty or facile with words as a lump of Kryptonite.
Now, you might think I didn't like "Superman Returns." Not so: The first hour is magnificent, and there is a lot to like in the succeeding hour and a half. But the movie is way too long. Singer apparently thought "more is more," and you can see all $300 million up on the screen.
But a long sequence in the middle, with lots of CGI and some preposterous stuff involving Lois saving Superman, is repetitive and kind of joyless. A woman sitting next to me in yesterday’s screening kept making phone calls during that part.
But the first hour or so just soars, and all works with a real brilliance. It’s enough to offset the rest of the film for better or worse.
That first hour is essentially a remake of the first two Donner films. The only difference is that Superman has been away for five years. But Singer recreates Superman's original appearance on Earth — this time instead of being a baby in a rocket, he's an adult. The wonderful Eva Marie Saint returns as Clark’s mother Martha Kent, and the scenes in Kansas are gorgeously shot.
In recreating the Donner films, Singer has also used John Williams' original score and the original title design as well. In this case "Superman Returns" is really "Superman III." About 20 minutes in, Clark/Superman must rescue the Space Shuttle and a passenger plane that was boosting it into space. The whole movie is worth this episode, every part of it works.
But that's when a new story kicks in, involving Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor colorlessly imitating Gene Hackman, and Parker Posey doing her damnedest to make a character out of his sidekick Kitty.
But Posey — who looks great and has some good introductory moments — never takes off. For a lot of the film she’s dressed up with no place to go, and you can feel it. Her role is full of missed opportunities for juicy one-liners and observations.
Spacey, sometimes looking like Uncle Fester, works overtime to find new paths away from Hackman's work. Sometimes, but not often, he is successful.
There are some nice touches: The first character you see in the film is a wealthy, dying widow whom Lex is conning into signing over her estate. The original Lois Lane from TV, Noel Neill, does a nice job with the part.
Later Jack Larson, Jimmy Olsen from TV, gets few good scenes as a bartender. Perry White (Frank Langella) does get to say, "Great Caesar's ghost," and in a cute scene the words, "Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it's a plane," are uttered.
In the end, "Superman Returns" is grand, and often aims to be a take on "Gotterdammerung" with the world exploding, flooding, collapsing and repairing itself. There is a lot of melodrama, and many gorgeous shots of Superman flying around the world, into space and brooding about his life's work.
I think the audience I saw the movie with was a little confused. They wanted some laughs, but when the few times came, they chuckled nervously instead.
There was succinct applause at the end, but not the feeling that we’d seen a jubilant triumph. My guess is the movie, which comes out June 28 and will "open" all the way through July 4, will make all its foundational money right away, and come out of the first week in good shape. But $300 million is a lot to earn back, no matter how impassioned comic books fans are about this latest iteration of their hero's saga.
What a week, soul music fans! On Monday, we saw Gladys Knight, Little Richard and Chaka Khan wow the Apollo. On Tuesday night, it was Aretha Franklin. After a breather on Wednesday, last night Norm Chesky — he and his brother David own audiophile label Chesky Records — convinced me to see Smokey Robinson at Carnegie Hall for the JVC Jazz Fest. It didn’t take much arm twisting; I said yes right away.
Of course, Valerie Simpson and Nik Ashford — Smokey's Motown songwriting compatriots — were there, and so was Chuck Jackson. Gayle King was in the audience, and so was Ronald Winston, of Harry Winston Jewelers. I sat in the very front row next to Gavin DeGraw, who was so amazed by Smokey’s catalog that after every song he said, "He wrote that one, too?"
Yes, Smokey wrote "My Girl," "Tracks of My Tears," "Ooh Baby Baby," "Tears of a Clown," "The Way You Do The Things You Do," "I Second That Emotion," "You Really Got a Hold On Me," "Cruisin," "Being with You," "More Love," and so on and so forth.
He sang them all, too, with a sublime clarity that sent shivers down the spine. At 66 years old, his voice is more supple than ever, and he can trill a falsetto into nirvana. He is also a master showman, and quick-witted storyteller. The sold-out Carnegie Hall audience hung on his every word and sang along to every chorus (he also wrote, but didn’t sing, my favorite Temptations song, "Since I Lost My Baby").
Smokey’s show also included a nice solo spot for legendary Motown composer/guitarist Marv Taplin (Smokey is loyal, which is nice), who created many of the hooks in his songs. He also throws in a couple of hot go-go dancers, as he says, just in case you get tired of looking at him.
Lurking backstage afterward was David Merrick manqué David Gest, ex-husband of Liza Minnelli and recently unpopular creator of a Dionne Warwick special I told you about earlier this week.
Gest now has sunk his claws into Smokey, and I am told that the great performer’s handlers are none too pleased at the prospect of a Smokey concert celebrating his 50 years in show biz featuring D-list acts from county fairs. They’d be well advised to read this column’s recent report.
By the way, Gest split the backstage area quickly when he spotted us, before we could ask him when Dionne's special would be on TV.
Smokey, PS, has a new album out: "Timeless Love," on Universal Records. It's all standards, and he did a few of them last night. Like Gladys Knight's current foray into similar territory, it's a lovely collection and well worth picking up.
Yesterday, I was begged, "please do not say what's happening to Dallas Austin. For fear of his life." But then Rush & Molloy broke the news in their gossip column today. Here's what I know.
Dallas Austin, the Atlanta R&B/hip-hop/rap producer of TLC and other major recording groups, got nabbed in Dubai a month ago for drug possession. It was serious. They found coke and a miscellaneous assortment of goodies on him. Austin, as reported, was arriving for Naomi Campbell's birthday party.
Since then, Austin has foundered in a Dubai prison waiting for something to happen. I'm told he has a trial set for the first week of July.
His lawyers, including Atlanta record biz heavyweight Joel Katz, have been trying to settle the case and spring him before that. Of course, the fear is that should a trial go badly, Austin could wind up lost in a Middle Eastern judicial system a la the infamous story told in the film "Midnight Express."
Obviously, no country should be lenient about drugs, but wouldn't it make more sense for Dubai — which is struggling to become the Las Vegas of the Middle East — to extradite Austin back here for trial and punishment?
Dubai, by all accounts, is dying to have Western celebrities and entertainers at its resorts, casinos and nightclubs. The specter of arrest and incarceration isn't going to make that country so appealing, I feel. Tolerance and rational behavior as responses should do the trick.
By the way, didn't Naomi party with the Prince of Dubai over New Year's? He's rumored to be courting her with all kinds of diamonds. Certainly the Prince must have some sway with local authorities. I'm surprised Naomi hasn't used her substantial powers of persuasion to secure Austin's release yet.