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Rage Against the Machine


Man, I hate the summer movie season. Supposedly, this is the time of year when more people go to see pictures, but the megaplexes actually offer fewer titles. That's because they run the popcorn junk on multiple screens. AMC's Elmwood Palace 20 offered more than 15 viewing opportunities a day for the likes of the latest Indiana Jones and Kung Fu Panda in their first weeks of release. You could listen to the girls of Sex and the City talk dirty during more than 10 slots a day. Meanwhile, there's nothing else to choose from. Even my friends at Canal Place get saddled with the blockbuster yawners. In the suburbs, we have a smorgasbord that includes, along with the above, The Happening, The Strangers, What Happens in Vegas, You Don't Mess with the Zohan and Iron Man, which has been around for more than a month. With those as my options, I settled this week for one of 17 daily screenings of The Incredible Hulk. Good golly, Miss Molly, what a runny plop of dog food.

Written by Zak Penn, who specializes in such crap, and directed by Louis Leterrier, The Incredible Hulk, for those who have been living in a cave, is the story of a man who has serious problems with anger management. Most people who get their heart rates up over 200 would just pop an aneurysm and dispatch themselves. But mild-mannered Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, obviously in desperate need of a new yacht) gets the blood pumping and becomes the film's title, a huge, snarling green thing who likes to toss cars around as if they were children's letter blocks. Seems Bruce injected himself with some radioactive material and is now in need of some lengthy time-outs to atone for his temper tantrums.

The script may account for what Bruce thought he was up to, but if so, I slept through that part. I know he was working on a Defense Department project with Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her dad, General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt, obviously wishing he could collect a paycheck like he used to in something worthwhile). I think we're supposed to assume that Bruce and Betty had something good in mind, though I can't imagine what that would be. Thaddeus never had any good intentions, that's for sure. From the beginning he was hoping to produce a ferocious and indestructible soldier to be employed against our enemies, who, in this case, to paraphrase Pogo, are clearly ourselves.

Well, once Bruce turns into the mean green giant and has smashed a bunch of stuff and harmed a bunch of people, he decides he'd prefer to be a calmer kind of guy. So he takes off for parts unknown with the secret to his furious powers packed away in his own bloodstream. We meet him living in squalor in a Brazilian slum. He's hiding from Thaddeus, who is searching for him in every nook and cranny of the globe. Thaddeus wants to get Bruce back, and, I presume, vampire him. The relentless search for Bruce provides the picture its endless chases and action sequences " in short, its reason to exist. But the film never actually establishes the particular advantage of apprehending Bruce, especially since it develops that Thaddeus has a supply of deep-frozen monster juice all his own. And in a development we all saw coming before we even bought our tickets, Thaddeus injects another guy (Tim Roth) with Hulk serum, so that for anyone who hasn't spent the entire time at the concession stand, there can be the requisite Hulko-a-Hulko confrontation at the movie's climax.

My favorite parts of The Incredible Hulk include adjacent scenes in which Bruce, in Hulk mode, escapes Thaddeus in Brazil and evidently runs all the way to Guatemala. Now that's endurance. In addition, I admired that the movie seemed to advocate some analogue for nuclear disarmament, right up to the very end when it had to promote its sequel and then reversed its position 180 degrees " an outstanding exercise in principle. I also loved how " though Hulks cannot be killed with heavy artillery, much less ho-hum machine gun fire " when Bruce/Hulk acts vaguely pliable after a big fight, Thaddeus signals a bunch of uniformed cops to lower their pistols. Why did they ever raise those pistols? Weren't they required to watch the first part of the movie like the rest of us?

Yes, my heart rate has exceeded 200, and I am now 9 feet tall and the color of pea soup. Summer movies better watch their asses.

The Incredible Hulk flies into a rage in the streets of New York. - 2008 UNIVERSAL PICTURES

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