Dir: Stephen Norrington. US. 2003. 110mins
This extraordinary misfire from Blade director Stephen Norrington is like Coca-Cola without the fizz. All the elements are in place but nothing - not the cast, the production design, the effects, the one-liners, the fight scenes, the camp - can bring it to life and one very costly film (reportedly at least $80m) sits there on the screen, stagnant like stale Coke, a moribund mess drowned in its own visual ambitions. Fox, which was hoping to recreate a bit of the X factor its X-Men franchise generated earlier in the summer by branding this film LXG, will generate some tidy business in its first weekend from the undiscerning summer crowd but once the curious have been satisfied, it's straight to the video shelves for LXG.
The movie brings to mind The Avengers, another attempt at a new summer franchise starring Sean Connery from 1998, but it is not as awful as that lame duck. Instead, it is just careless - failing to set up the characters and the storyline in the hopelessly alienating opening 15 minutes, and overpowering any of the remaining story in gloomy Gothic production design (the film had a troubled shoot in Prague) and effects which fall between the inspired and the inept.
Indeed it encapsulates the problem with many of this summer's so-called event pictures. Rushed to meet their release dates, the films fail to meet high standards both narratively and indeed technologically, with some obviously shoddy effects work in amongst the flawless CG and characters so poorly developed that two-dimensional is frankly too kind a term to describe them.
Here the high concept comes from comic books by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill and concerns a league of fictional legends who are brought together to save the world from a megalomaniac madman known as The Fantom who is pitting the nations of Europe against each other in 1899.
Leading the gang is Allan Quatermain (from King Solomon's Mines) as played by Connery who is the first to be recruited by the mysterious M (Roxburgh). Yes, that's M, as in the James Bond character M, a Connery in-joke which is one of the film's only gags.
He is joined by Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) from Jules Verne's novels, Mina Harker (Wilson) from Bram Stoker's Dracula, the invisible man Rodney Skinner (Curran) ' reinvented as a cockney spiv from the HG Wells character, Dorian Gray (Townsend) from Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Flemyng) from Robert Louis Stevenson's book of the same name. Our token American is secret service agent Sawyer, played by Shane West (A Walk To Remember).
After a speedy introduction in which the league gathers together with little exposition at all, they travel in Nemo's submarine Nautilus to Venice to stop the sinking of the city by the Fantom during a conference of world leaders.
Although a good part of Venice, including St Mark's Square, is destroyed, the league manage to save a few streets before sailing off to China for the Bond-like denouement at the Fantom's secret lair.
The film is so frenetically directed by Norrington that it's hard to follow the action nor make any sense of it. There is a sense of humour, but it is sporadic and incongruous amid such gloom and grandeur; not to mention the unintentional humour of Mr Hyde's Hulk-esque transformation and his final appearance which makes a green Lou Ferrigno look state-of-the-art.
Whether today's kids, to whom this movie is squarely targeted, will understand any of the literary references is not the point. Whether they will find any of LXG even remotely compelling is a rather more serious issue. When you don't know enough about the characters to care who wins a fight, even expertly choreographed combat scenes can be boring.
Prod co/worldwide dist: 20th Century Fox
Exec prods: Sean Connery, Mark Gordon
Prods: Don Murphy & Trevor Albert
Scr: James Dale Robinson, from the comic book by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Cinematography: Dan Lausten
Prod des: Carol Spier
Ed: Paul Rubell
Music: Trevor Jones
Main cast: Sean Connery, Shane West, Peta Wilson, Stuart Townsend, Jason Flemyng, Naseeruddin Shah, Tony Curran