Batman&Robin review

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Step forward, Schumacher. Your Batman&Robin, latest and least of the Batflicks, is little more than a hook on which to dangle assorted merchandising opportunities. What is your defence?

He'd probably have quite a lot to say. He'd point to his usual stellar grouping of stars: Schwarzenegger as the new mega baddie; conceited sex symbol George Clooney as Batman; poster boy Chris O'Donnell as Robin; Alicia Silverstone; Uma Thurman... He'd remind us of all the pat comic book references he's slipped in. He'd point out the bucketloads of nifty Bat and Freeze gadgets (the Batmobile as a single-seater convertible, the Batbikes, Arnie's tank thing, the new suits). And he'd mention the bizarre, overwrought, indisputably impressive sets. But he'd fail to grasp (has failed to grasp) that this stuff should be the icing on the cake, and not the substance.

The dialogue has been stripped back until it's little more than an endless stream of camp innuendo and limp one-liners (Robin begs Ivy to "turn over a new leaf"). Nor is the action much cop: we know that crunchy fight scenes aren't Schumacher's forte, but B&R's scraps are particularly uninvolving - cut so that nobody appears to have actually hit anyone.

Up, down, fast, slow, back, fore, this restless spectacular drags us through one kerpow-thwack encounter after another, but not one is even remotely satisfying. There's a car chase over one of those huge statues that litter Gotham City; a motorcycle destruction derby; a prison breakout; and a wringingly wet squib of a finale at Gotham Observatory.

As this kinetic knockabout rolls on, and more and more dosh gets slopped onto the screen in gaudy, strobe-lit globs, you begin to wonder where the meat of the film is. Intentionally or unintentionally - and we suspect the former - Batman&Robin has been pitched at the level of a ludicrously camp pantomime. Pun-laden and innuendo-shackled, with every duff line it edges closer and closer to the spirit of the '60s Adam West TV show.

At least the virtually all-new cast toils bravely with the few scraps its given to work with. Despite some of the tosh he's forced to spout, Schwarzenegger steals the show, clumping around Gotham like a frosted Robocop and firing streams of quick-freezing computer-generated slush (the best of the film's decidedly patchy special effects). Freeze is quite a tragic character - his motivations aren't totally evil, but a misguided attempt to save his moribund wife, who's somehow been frozen alive - and he gets some almost touching scenes. Uma Thurman does a good job as the luscious Ivy, too: a librarian type transformed into a slinky siren, she enchants her victims with herbal love dust, then tongues them to death.

As for the good guys, George Clooney makes a decent first outing as the new Dark Knight, doing his best to grapple with a daft script, and making the most of the tender moments between Bruce and Alfred, the Wayne family's long-serving butler. O'Donnell does enough to get by, but he's on hand mainly to jazz up the riotous fight scenes and to lend the rubber-clad ER doc a rival for the attentions of Ivy later in the film ("She loves me and not you and it's driving you crazy"). Less successful are Silverstone's Batgirl (she's one superhero too many, and doesn't even look sexy in the suit), Elle Macpherson, who has a brief eye-candy cameo as Clooney's girlfriend, and Jeep Swenson, who interprets super-soldier Bane as a dull neanderthal heavy. Of course, Michael Gough is, once again, excellent as Alfred, a man who's not just handy in the kitchen but a computer whizz, clothes designer and electronics engineer to boot; Gough is easily the best actor on screen.

Strangely, you walk out of Batman&Robin wanting to see another Batman picture even one with George Clooney in the title role. But only if the entire style and approach is changed. Schumacher has gone as far as he can with this glib, lightweight, campy, cheesy, pop-operatic approach, and it plain don't work. We don't want a Batman movie that plays like a song-free MGM musical; we want a gripping story, proper characterisation and truly evil villains. Spending less money on the cast and more on decent special effects (some of this stuff is embarrassingly bad) wouldn't go amiss either. Whether Joel Schumacher is the guy to serve us up a proper Batfilm or not, we'll leave for you to judge. In the meantime, the vacuous, dim-witted, badly shot and screamingly obvious Batman&Robin is to be avoided, no matter how curious you are, or how becoming you expect Uma Thurman to look in green.

Predictably dismal pop-operatic guff. Some fine design, and the cast struggles manfully, but we get too many characters, too little plot, terrible dialogue, crap sfx and a dismal string of uninspiring action set-pieces. It's almost impossible to care about what happens on screen.

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