‘Spidey’ caught in own web 

Charm wears off the third film in series.

SPIDEY HOLE: Third falls in.
  • SPIDEY HOLE: Third falls in.

Well, I suppose even Sam Raimi couldn’t keep it up forever.

It was a noble attempt, and he squeezed every last drop of quality he could out of it, but with writing barely suitable for a second-rate animated TV series, “Spider-Man 3” was likely doomed to failure before he yelled “action.”

Raimi, the film’s director and one of its writers, has been a perfect fit for the franchise, an honest-to-God fan of the comics who wanted to remain as faithful to the source material as film adaptation allowed — and he’s done a fair job of that here, but watching the story play out, you soon realize that the actors are really just trying like hell not to trip over the script.

The warning shot is fired early on when Tobey Maguire stumbles around from scene to scene, grinning like an idiot and glassy-eyed with what could be either joy or fever-induced delirium, going on and on about how perfect his life is now that he’s in love and his girlfriend’s in a Broadway show and everybody loves Spider-Man and hey, is that a five-dollar bill in my pocket? You half-expect him at any moment to turn to the camera and ask, “What could POSSIBLY go wrong?”

Then it gets worse.

There are saccharine Hallmark moments involving little girls and gold lockets. There are characters that make Walt Disney look animated. There are story manipulations that make no sense, plot lines that intersect for no discernible reason; in fact, so many plot lines running through this movie that it’s a wonder they don’t come crashing to the ground like Buster Keaton on his third martini. The entire backstory for the Sandman, played by Thomas Haden Church, is encompassed in a single line of dialogue: “I’m not bad, I’ve just had bad luck.” The exposition, dear God, the exposition ...

It’s doubly disappointing when you bear in mind that the scripts for the previous two films were actually their greatest strengths, which is saying something for a genre that tends to rely primarily on spectacle over story — they even managed to snag Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon to help author the second movie. But for the third installment, Raimi appears to have gotten a little big for his britches, thinking he and his brother Ivan could just take over writing the damn thing by cobbling together an unwieldy collection of gimmicks, trite observations and cliched sentiment. Proof that hubris and nepotism are their own punishment, I suppose.

What “Spider-Man 3” does get right is the visuals. The effects are better than they’ve ever been — not just impressive, but artfully used. The origin of the Sandman is, if tainted by canned corn sentimentality, still visually stunning, and the fight sequences are genuinely thrilling. Raimi also manages to inject no small amount of humor into the film, but at times even that feels like filler, as if he’s making the jokes for no better reason than that he doesn’t really know how to handle the scene.

In short, this is a film best approached with low expectations. If you come to it, come to it wanting no more than a fun ride and a big show.

— Matthew Reed

Seeing is believing

Ah, Death — that which gives purpose to life! No matter how many vitamins you take, no matter how many miles you jog, no matter how many organic vegetables you buy, the old Black Dog is eventually going to run you down like the rest of us — which is, I suppose, why the idea of an afterlife is so popular. Most people are all about getting an extra bite at the plum.

But what if you took a cosmic wrong turn on the road to Cloud Nine and ended up as a ghost, spending your eternity watching flesh-and-blood people enjoy sex and Must-See TV and really good ribs, but never getting any yourself?

That’s the terror behind “The Invisible,” the new film directed by “Batman Begins” co-writer David S. Goyer. Though “Invisible” eventually death-spirals into a CW-grade teen-age weeper, for a while it’s a real piece of film, asking deep questions about whether there’s any difference in being dead and being dead on the inside.

Justin Chadwin stars as Nick Powell, a talented young poet set for graduation/parole from High School Hell. Living alone with his frigid mother (Marcia Gay Harden), Nick finds that he has been accepted to a prestigious writing program in London. Though his eyes-on-the-med-school-prize mother forbids him to go, Nick uses the dough he has saved writing jocks’ term papers and buys a one-way ticket to England.

Meanwhile, Nick’s wormy friend Pete (Chris Marquette) has run afoul of the local thug, who happens to be a suitably hot chick named Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva), who hides her vulnerability behind a knit cap and a switchblade. After Annie starts thinking that Pete turned her in for a smash-and-grab jewel theft, she and her lackeys rough him up.

To stop the hurting, Pete rolls over on his friend Nick, who he believes is by then winging his way to London. Next thing you know, Nick has been beaten and left for dead at the bottom of a storm drain. That’s where things get really weird, with Nick’s ghost coming back to try and help solve his own murder, even though the only creatures he can interact with are certain animals. To keep from spoiling things, I’ll leave it at that, though I will say it isn’t half as goofy as it sounds on paper.

Though Chadwin often tries a little too hard — especially in the scenes requiring emotion — he is mostly good here, as is Levieva. Both manage to sell the humanity of what might have been very flat characters (the Young Intellect and the Thief), shoring up the idea that, though their experiences have led them to different places, Annie and Nick are really the same, trapped in their own cage of circumstance. Though Goyer’s direction is workable, it never quite rises above that low bar — which is a shame, given the cool, almost indie vibe of the script.

While not nearly a grand slam, “The Invisible” has several surprises in store for the viewer able to check his or her disbelief at the popcorn counter.

— David Koon



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