To watch Green Lantern, Martin Campbell's big-screen version of the comic book, is to see the difference between cheesy fun and a processed-cheese entertainment substitute. Sadly, this one about a test pilot given superpowers by way of an energy-enhancing emerald ring is about as enjoyable as an explosion in the mold lab.
Campbell, the maker of The Mask of Zorro and the James Bond reboot Casino Royale, specializes in contrived scenarios where actors give unexpectedly serious performances. He seemed like the ideal guy for Green Lantern.
Alas, murky 3-D effects, sets that look like Frank Frazetta's rejected album covers, and creatures resembling bobbleheads doom Campbell's film from the get-go.
How can actors, even ones as attractive as Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, emerge from the green gunk encrusting the sets like so much Silly String? What can these ordinarily nimble performers do with clunky dialogue about Will and Fear that sounds like boilerplate from an Ayn Rand manifesto?
In one sequence Reynolds' Hal Jordan recites the Green Lantern oath with 3,000 other good guys on a craggy, creme de menthe-colored set that resembles an infestation of grasshoppers on planet Oa. When they collectively chant, "Let no evil escape my sight," I had to restrain myself from yelling: "Then do something about the art direction!"
Because this is the origin story of a hoped-for franchise, Campbell has to plow through a lot of exposition about who the Lanterns are and who Hal Jordan is.
The Lanterns are evilfighters, "a race of immortals who have harnessed the emerald energy." Hal is a cocky test pilot (is there any other kind?) who saw his test-pilot dad die in a crash and who is plagued by fear and doubt, feelings that get in the way of his ability to use his emerald-fueled superpowers to fight the enemy, a supersquid with X-ray eyes and nuclear breath called Parallax.
In an abbreviated sequence of Lantern boot camp - "Ringslinging 101" - Campbell handles Hal's evolution from flyboy to superhero most perfunctorily. Evidently, if Hal can imagine a weapon, it materializes in neon-green. There is no sense of mastering a weapon like a light saber.
And then there's the Lantern suit, a grass-green unitard. Let's just say it lacks the mystery of the Batsuit, the Transformers chic of Iron Man's rig, and the sex appeal of Superman's tights and cape. Reynolds should rock this unitard, but even on the guy who possesses an enviable 12-pack, it looks more Cirque de Soleil than Superhero.
What has Campbell wrought? An intermittently amusing, interminable affair that for sheer ugliness and a scenery-chewing performance by Peter Sarsgaard has a certain Camp appeal.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/flickgrrl/.