Oh no, there’s trouble in Gotham, I mean, New York City, again. A war between good and evil mutants is raging on, and only one person can stop them. No, not Hillary Clinton. Professor Charles Xavier, a good mutant who just wants what everybody else wants: he wants to be loved.

X-Men. Live action cartoon drawn with invisible inkThe big screen’s love affair with comic book superheroes finally runs out of gas with “X-Men,” a lifeless mess of a movie. This genre has become tired to the point of being anemic. Largely aimed at emotionally stunted 25 year old men who still live with their parents and argue endlessly over who would win if Superman and Batman fought each other, “X-Men” is possibly the longest hour-and-a-half I have ever spent in a theater.

Despite its bereft running time, “X-Men” is a marathon of uninteresting characters and flat dialogue. What starts off as an interesting parable to the “can’t we all just get along” debate ends up becoming nothing more than an expensive excuse to waste talent and money to appease a core audience who have probably never paid full price for an admission in their life.

Except for a handful of films, the practice of bringing comic books to the big screen has been dubious if not disastrous. “X-Men” continues the trend, thanks to a D.O.A. screenplay by David Hayter that looks and sounds like everything else that has come before it, only worse. The dialogue and situations are simplistic to the point of being distracting. The only suspense is wondering how much of this you’re willing to sit through before demanding a refund.

Based on the popular Marvel comic, “X-Men” is set in the present and deals with a race of mutants who hold special powers. They’re named after their powers, because as characters, they’re totally nondescript. They have been brought together by Xavier (played with some degree of humility by Patrick Stewart) to save the world from his arch nemesis, Magneto (Ian McKellen, obviously slumming).

Xavier runs a private school for the mutant outcasts, teaching them how to hone their talents and assimilate into society. Both Xavier and Magneto oppose Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), who is rallying to expose all mutants and put them on a theoretical leash. Xavier believes that both man and mutant can coexist together. Magneto wants to turn everyone into mutants so there are no distinctions.

His plan calls for him to cover New York City and Ellis Island (which is hosting a World Leader convention) with a radiation beam that will transform humans into mutants, which in real life, would be redundant.

The problem with super hero fantasies is that the writers can do what ever they want or please. There are no hard set rules, which robs the film of any real emotional payoff. Since the mutants and their adversaries are virtually immortal, it’s hard to muster up any concern over their fates. So what if one of the “X-Men” is supposedly killed during a fight? Another one has the power to bring them back to life. And so it goes, time and time again, until you just quit caring about the characters altogether.

It’s hard to believe that this pedestrian outing came from director Bryan Singer, whose auspicious debut was “The Usual Suspects.” Even his follow up, the uneasy “Apt Pupil,” displayed a rare talent for maintaining suspense even when we knew where the film was headed. None of that here. “X-Men” is so transparent and uninteresting, it’s as if the director was painting with invisible ink.

Despite the presence of some fine talent, the characters are as thin as their printed page counterparts. Hugh Jackman is the only one who shows presence, playing the tortured Wolverine. With retractable steel claws and the power to heal, Wolverine is the only character in “X-Men” with bite. Jackman looks the part, but is saddled with stoic dialogue that sounds as if it were ripped out of a Dirty Harry movie.

Stewart and McKellen walk through their roles, obviously thrilled at being part of a large franchise, but left with little to do. Their personification of good and evil is presented at its lowest common denominator, never allowing the actors to do what they do best. These characters aren’t trapped by their unfortunate maladies. They’re trapped by a lazy writer’s inability to come up with anything remotely interesting for them to say or do.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better, especially Halle Berry and James Marsden as Storm and Cyclops. Berry looks like she stepped out of a Snoop Dog video, while Marsden is forced to wear protective headgear that would look ridiculous in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Famke Janssen, so lethal in “Goldeneye,” sits around and looks pretty, while the rest of the cast seem to be looking for their agents.

Singer’s pace is as slow as molasses. After an out of place and somewhat confusing opening, “X- Men” goes downhill from there. Neither Singer nor Hayter show any interest in making “X-Men” anything more than an expensive audition reel for the special and visual effects teams. It’s as if Singer was so overwhelmed by the scope of the film that he wasn’t able to maintain his usual focus.

Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel has no such problem, delivering crisp and colorful images that are truly comic book inspired. The editors do a reasonable job of putting it all together, while Michael Kamen’s musical score suggests a much better movie.

I suspect that “X-Men” will become another movie franchise like “Superman” and “Batman.” Hopefully by the time the second installment arrives, the filmmakers involved will understand that importance of sharp dialogue and characters. Special effects are fine, but they’re not very special when everything else around them stinks.

Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Tyler Mane, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Bruce Davison in a film directed by Bryan Singer. Rated PG-13. 96 Minutes.

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