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Batman and Robin delivers mindless fun

Batman And Robin

Directed by Joel Schumacher.

Written by Akiva Goldsman, Christopher McQuarrie.

Starring George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Alicia Silverstone.

By Dan McGuire
Executive Editor

Originally, Batman was a tragic figure, forced by his past to cleanse the city of crime. But the last film in the Batman franchise pretty much did away with the whole voyage-of-self-discovery thing, leaving us with shallower characters and muddied motivations. But great backdrops and special effects and a tolerable but mindless plot make Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin a pretty fun romp anyway.

In this installment, Batman (George Cloony) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) must save the city of Gotham from two new villains: the emotionless Doctor Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the sensual yet deadly Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman).

Freeze is a scientist turned bad by circumstance. While working to cure his sick wife of a rare disease, he falls into a vat of chemicals which change his blood to ice, making him unable to survive at temperatures above 50 degrees below zero. Now, working from a secret base in an ice cream factory, Freeze is laying plans to take the city hostage to get the funds he needs to find the cure for his wife's illness.

Ivy is yet another scientist, this time an eccentric ecologist working in the rain forests of South America. While working to create an animal / plant hybrid, she suffers a laboratory accident which makes her (surprisingly enough) poisonous. Now believing herself to Mother Nature with an attitude, Ivy is out to restore the planet without regard to the humans who inhabit it.

That's about it for the setup, and much of the rest of the movie is spent on spectacular car chases through an incredibly elaborate Gotham City. The plot here is pretty predictable for anyone vaguely acquainted with Saturday morning cartoons: Ivy unplugs Freeze's wife's life support system and blames it on Batman, uniting the two against the Caped Crusader. Poison Ivy's Magic pherome dust turns Batman and Robin against each other, climaxing in Robin's demand that they rip out the Bat Signal and replace it with a Robin Signal. Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough), Batman's butler, also develops a case of the same disease that affects Freeze's wife and can only be cured by Freeze's research.

Oh, and we're joined by Bat Girl (Alicia Silverstone), Alfred's Computer Scientist/ Judo expert niece. We see just enough of her to discover that she's a take-no-nonsense motorcycle racer. She also kicks Uma Thurman into a large purple flower in a pretty funny fight scene.

But it's not character or plot that carries this movie, it's atmosphere. Every set and prop in this movie makes one think of an Art-Deco world gone horribly wrong. 1930's era cars race around the streets of Gotham avoiding Freeze's deadly freeze ray. Gothic buildings reach hundreds of stories into the air supporting impossible roads. Day-glo thugs threaten harm to our heros. The dizzying visuals alternately induce agoraphobia, claustrophobia, and vertigo. Special effects also bring us extraordinary visuals, ranging from a telescope tumbling hundreds of feet down a cliff, to the Batmobile jumping off a cliff, being frozen in mid air, and then breaking apart on impact.

Batman and Robin does little to advance the storyline and character development of the series, but its special effects are very good and Gotham is downright spooky.

My main complaint is that the movie takes itself far too seriously. Its over the top characters and cliched situations are ripe for self-parody. No movie should be able to have a villain say "Today Gotham, tomorrow, the world!" with a straight face, but Dr. Freeze cheerfully does just that.

But despite the flaws, I liked Batman and Robin. Don't expect great art, or even decent drama, from this movie. Expect lots of explosions and a plot that will let you set your brain on idle. And sometimes, especially for the dog days of summer, that's exactly what's needed.