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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Fantastic Four' sequel better than first film

Short, cheesy and to the point, "Fantastic Five," er, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" has the same goofy tone, the same light touch as its predecessor.

It takes a while to get going, but once it does, it clips along, entertains, and doesn't overstay its welcome. There isn't much "meaning" here, unlike the weightier and more pretentious "Spider-Man"/"X-Men"/"Batman"/"Superman" franchises. But that is its charm. This is the comic-book series that embraces its popcorniness.

The Invisible Hottie (Jessica Alba) is trying to tie the knot with Mr. Rubber-armed Smartypants (Ioan Gruffud). But their celebrity keeps getting in the way. Darn "Entertainment Tonight" anyway.

The Thing (Michael Chiklis) is not above flexing his rock-hard-rocks for the tourists. The Human Torch (Chris Evans) is eating up the fame, the endorsements, the girls. What's it take to date Johnny Storm?

"Fireproof lingerie, and lots of aloe."

But this strange comet-creature has shown up and started snowstorms on the pyramids and turned Japanese fishing grounds into glass. Stunning developments.

Americans, of course, are more interested in celebrity news _ the Mr. Fantastic-Invisible Woman nuptials. Until, that is, those are interrupted by the Silver Surfer.

"We can't even get married without starting World War III," Alba's Suzy whines.

The Surfer is that ultimate bad wedding guest. He's a harbinger of doom.

"All that you know is at an end," he purrs in Laurence Fishburne's voice.

Surfer dude's crashing the wedding means the Earth has just eight days to return those wedding gifts.

Dr. Von Doom (Julian McMahon) is given a new lease on life when the silver guy surfs in. Big holes turn up in the Earth's surface everywhere the Surfer shows up. The military in the person of Andre Braugher bullies the Four into helping track this guy down.

And that's pretty much it.

There's a jarring intrusion of reality when the military resorts to torturing a suspect. But mostly, this is just a sci-fi fantasy that plays around with notions of family (and family feuds) and goofs on celebrity. It's dumb, but the emphasis is always on likably dumb.

"Rise of the Silver Surfer" is slow catch a wave, but that leaves room for some decent acting moments. The effects are dazzling and the story even finds some heart for the third act. There's a great speech the brilliant Dr. Reed Richards-Mr. Fantastic gives trumpeting smart kids over school jocks that will thrill comic-book fans of all ages.

So it's not deep and it's not art. Even if they never actually achieve Fantastic, this cast and crew are more than welcome back. Summer at the movies should always be "clobberin' time."

3 stars (out of 5)

Cast: Ioan Gruffud, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher.

Director: Tim Story.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Industry rating: PG for sequences of action violence, some mild language and innuendo.

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