The Hulk | Michael Jackson | Luther Vandross and The Sopranos

Ang Lee's Grouchy Hulk, Sleeping Audience

Last night's press screening for Ang Lee's The Hulk was a mixed bag: I've rarely seen so many people want to like a movie but come out, uh, just exhausted.

Let's talk about the upside first: The computer-generated Hulk is indeed very realistic and convincing. In fact, all the special effects are good, very subtle and artfully done. There's rarely a time when the computer side of this movie doesn't pay off.

Nick Nolte gives a great performance as David Banner, the Hulk's crazy father. A scene toward the end of the movie featuring Nolte and Eric Bana set against a black backdrop gives the older actor a chance to show off, and he does. Bravo! This guy can do anything. He's one of our most underrated actors.

The Hulk is brought to us by Ang Lee and James Schamus, the wonderful team behind The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Schamus also now runs Focus Features with David Linde as Universal Focus. They have the job of making quality pictures at big ol' Universal.

These are all talented and smart gentlemen who have only the best intention in their filmmaking. I mean, you can't beat Ang Lee's other movies — Sense and Sensibility, Eat Drink Man Woman or The Wedding Banquet. As Martha Stewart would say, it's all good.

But maybe too good. Lee and Schamus over-reach in The Hulk to make a comic book into an opera. They are too geeky to realize that we read comics when we were young to escape going to the opera, or to purge an opera experience from our adolescent minds.

The Hulk is dark — soooo dark! And gloomy. It's also mind-blowingly slow for the first 40 minutes (I missed the first nine, but I'm assured nothing vital happened).

Jennifer Connelly is fine, and Sam Elliott — though he really looked old with grayish white hair — is a textured if somber villain. But there's no humor in The Hulk, and no light spots. Eric Bana comes from the Josh Hartnett school of acting, which does not have advanced placement courses, trust me.

Maybe I was expecting Spider-Man or X-Men, the two jivey Marvel comics-into-movies that have been hits. There is a lot to appreciate in Lee's direction of The Hulk, including the split-screens and some other cool editing devices. And Schamus' story is nothing if not adult; Don't worry about teens mooning over one another here. It's not their best work, but it's not their worst. And die-hard Marvel fans are going to make for a big first weekend, no matter what.

Jacko Has Rush Hour Director to Thank

Michael Jackson may finally be wising up. When he realized he was in deep doo-doo he turned to someone smart for a change: Rush Hour director Brett Ratner.

Ratner, who knows Jackson through their mutual friend, Rush Hour star Chris Tucker, is the first rational person Mikey's called in a long time. According to my sources, the two talk frequently. Jackson asked Ratner what he should do about his financial quagmire.

"Brett is friends with Brian Koppelman, the screenwriter," says my source. "He called him and Brian suggested Michael talk to his dad."

That would be music impresario Charles Koppelman, whom I told you on June 4th was taking over Jackson's dealings. (Variety, always out to get the scoop, responded with an exclusive story of its own on June 10.)

Koppelman tried more than a year ago to figure out how to do a "Bowie Bond" on Jackson in order to securitize his song-catalog assets. Unfortunately, that didn't work out. And now that Moody's Investor Service has downgraded the Bowie Bonds, the chances of it happening are slim.

But Koppelman can do some things right away: untangle the mess of the Beatles catalog at Sony, get Jackson out of Sony completely and signed to another record company, and get the entertainer back to making music instead of headlines, depositions and fainting spells.

Now isn't it nice that I'm telling you this on Paul McCartney's 61st birthday? Happy birthday, Paul. Once again, the Beatles catalog moves farther away from your reach. This is what we call life's vicissitudes.

Sopranos, Luther: We Told You So

I hate to be the one to say I told you so, but Luther Vandross scored the No. 1 album this week, with just over 400,000 copies sold. I don't know if all those CDs are in the basements of BMG Music execs (just kidding!). Truth is, Dance With My Father, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, is the Sgt. Pepper of the Vandross catalog. The No. 1 spot is well deserved. ...

Meanwhile, The Sopranos will return for a sixth season, as I told you. The Hollywood Reporter broke the big story first last night. But readers of this column will recall my prediction, as HBO had booked Silvercup Studios for a sixth season. I told you that last week. It's good news for everyone, but the Reporter may be incorrect about "all" the cast returning. Our pal, Federico Castelluccio (Furio) has so far not been in the currently-shooting fifth season. ...