Out of Their League 

A Pile of Unextraordinary Crap

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

dir. Norrington

Opens Fri, July 11

Various Theaters

It's really too bad about those people who lived back in the late 1800s. They didn't have crap! They didn't have radio, cars, digital cable, Sonicare toothbrushes, X-Box, Miami bootybass, baggy lowriding trousers, or Arby's. However, what they did have was a rich literary imagination and an unending optimism for the future--which of course is no replacement for Arby's, but what are you gonna do?

But getting back to the "rich literary imagination" thingy, denizens of the end of the 19th century thrilled to the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Professor Challenger, as well as the horrors of Dracula, The Invisible Man, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And the reason we still remember these characters is because they had so much to offer; along with being sharply drawn they were also pointed reflections and satires of Victorian society. Unfortunately for those of us living in the days of Sonicare and Arby's, director Stephen Norrington (Blade) has chosen to take a few of these characters and suck out the last bit of their satire and humanity in a grueling trifle called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Based on the richly textured comic series from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, League tells the tale of an alternate-reality Victorian age where characters like adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea's Captain Nemo actually exist. Purportedly summoned to prevent the onset of World War I, Quartermain and Nemo are joined by vampiress Mina Harker, the Invisible Man, the immortal Dorian Gray, the hulking Mr. Hyde, and even American hayseed-turned-"secret service agent" Tom Sawyer. Their mission: stop the mysterious "Phantom" who is dead set on becoming rich by stealing the League's individual powers in order to arm a host of war-hungry nations. Stupid, right? You don't know the half of it.

It would seem like joining this cast of unlikely characters would ultimately end up in a couple of hours of rollicking entertainment. Unfortunately, there's not a likable person in the bunch. Sean Connery makes nary an attempt to rescue the threadbare script, and seems more than a little put out to be there in the first place. La Femme Nikita's Peta Wilson brings a moderate amount of heat to her role as the blood-sucking Vampira, but we're still only two degrees above freezing.

The overriding problem lies in the script, which takes the joys of Victorian optimism for the future (found in much of the era's science fiction and fantasy) and dumps it down a humorless escape hatch of modern-day cinematic laziness (explosions, explosions, more explosions). Where's the British love of language, verve, and wit found in the original novels? Where's the satire? Most probably on the crumpled up wads of paper littering the floor of screenwriter James Robinson, after he was repeatedly ordered to "dumb it down." I've been dumbed down enough, thank you very much. And to prove it, I'm going to Arby's.

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