Extraordinary Gentlemen

As bloated as Marlon Brando during the off-season, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is not only bigger-than-life, it’s bigger than fantasy. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore (“From Hell”) and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, “Extraordinary Gentlemen” brings together seven literary creations (six in the graphic novel, one recruited by the films writer) to help the British Empire stop a madman from kick-starting a World War.

Set in 1899, and starring Sean Connery as H. Rider Haggard’s dashing adventurer Allan Quatermain, “Extraordinary Gentlemen” looks and feels like a mix-master movie. Toss in a little of this, a dash of that, hoping that the final product will be tasty enough for hungry summer movie audiences to gobble up. Gobble is the key word, because based on the end result, “Extraordinary Gentlemen” is a turkey. A big turkey, overstuffed to the point of exploding on impact.

Directed with the finesse of a sledgehammer by Stephen Norrington, and featuring a vastly inferior collection of special visual effects, “Extraordinary Gentlemen” barrels at you like Roseanne rushing an all-you-can-eat buffet in Las Vegas. This isn’t a movie that you watch but endure, suffering through mindless exchanges of dialogues that serve as water-downed super glue to hold the rest of the impossibly inept plot together.

Michael Douglas recently announced that he was dropping his current agency and agent, blaming them for his recent slate of box office failures. Sean Connery should take his in the back alley and teach them “the Chicago way!” If anyone is in need of a career make-over, it’s Connery. As someone with a fair amount of leverage (he’s listed as one of the film’s executive producers), Connery should know better, yet he makes more bad decisions than Governor Gray Davis.

Sadly, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is just ordinary, and painfully so. This is the one film I really wanted to see when the summer started, and now it’s going to take the rest of the summer to erase the experience from my mind. Where’s one of those “Men in Black” memory erasers when you really need one?

Written by James Dale Robinson, making his major motion picture debut (after penning the quirky yet enjoyable “Comic Book Villains”), the script feels like it was created by committee. The plot is so top heavy it has no choice but to collapse under its own weight, leaving behind a rubble of story arcs and paper-thin characters.

While none of the characters rise from the rubble like a phoenix, the actors who portray them do seem to be having a good time. Connery struts around like Dr. Moreau over this menage of literary creations, desperately trying to steal the focus from the bombastic effects. His crusading companions include a testy Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), scientist-turned-vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), pretty as his picture Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), the split personality of Jekyll and Hyde (Jason Flemyng), and American detective Tom Sawyer (Shane West).

They are hot on the trail of Fantom, who is in Venice to start a war and then profit from the results. You’ve just got to love those war profiteers, at least they know what they want. I wish the director felt the same way. He sees the film as a super hero saga, but it’s impossible to invest anything more than a passing interest in these heroes.

Norrington, who showed a flair for dark, arresting visuals in “Blade,” stumbles badly here. In his second studio feature, he acts like a kid who got everything he ever wanted for Christmas, and is anxious to shove every gizmo and gadget down our throat. Talk about overkill. Every frame is jam packed with eye candy, but lacks what it needs most, believable and interesting characters. The fact that Norrington and Connery almost came to blows on the Prague set is indicative of the film’s lack of a clear and decisive narrative.

“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is obviously a popcorn movie, but with way too much butter flavoring. That creates a slippery slope which no one on the screen or behind the camera seems capable of scaling. The film does have that graphic novel look, thanks to the stylish cinematography of Dan Lausten, who photographed the deliciously decadent “Brotherhood of the Wolf” in 2001. If writer Robinson had invested more time in creating compelling characters and dialogue, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” wouldn’t have ended up so ordinary.


There’s nothing “Extraordinary” about these “Gentlemen”


Sean Connery, Shane West, Stuart Townsend, Peta Wilson, Jason Flemyng, Naseeruddin Shah. Directed by Stephen Norrington. Rated PG-13. 108 Minutes.


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