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'The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen'

These 'Gentlemen' are less than ordinary

Friday, July 11, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Guess I've had it wrong all these years. It's not Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hulk -- at least that's what he looks like in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," a new movie based on the comic books by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill.

"The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen"

RATING: PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence, language and innuendo.

STARRING: Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson

DIRECTOR: Stephen Norrington


Don't the filmmakers realize that role has been taken? That is just one of the many oddities in "League," a fantasy that is overstuffed with extraordinary gentlemen and one vampiress and that seems to be aimed at a PG-13 audience that may have no clue about Dorian Gray or Allan Quatermain or Captain Nemo. It also sinks under a villain who cannot hold a candle to, say, Ian McKellen or Brian Cox in "X2: X-Men United."

"League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is set in 1899, when new weapons -- tanks, explosives, early versions of machine guns -- plus skullduggery have put the British empire in peril. That's what the royal recruiter known as M (Richard Foxburgh) tells Quatermain (Sean Connery) when he tracks him down in a quiet Kenyan club where slavish enthusiasts come to hear about his adventures, including the discovery of King Solomon's Mines.

To stave off a world war, the white-haired hunter signs on, as do Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), bloodsucker Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), U.S. Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West), the ageless Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng).

After stops in London and Paris, the league heads for Venice, where the murderous mastermind known as "The Fantom" is expected to strike. Since they predate e-savers by a century, they take advantage of Nemo's sleek submarine, the Nautilus, which bumps the gondoliers out of the way and glides right into the heart of the Italian city.

Venice is soon falling like a house of cards, and the league must save the city, figure out if there is a traitor in their midst and then move on to the Fantom's fortress and base of operations. Characters reveal their true nature on both sides of the league line, before the final credits roll.

"League," directed by Stephen Norrington ("Blade"), is more period adventure than eye-popping adaptation in the way "The Hulk" is, with its split screen and framing devices echoing comic panels. These characters are like rough sketches in a comic book; the inkers haven't been summoned to fill in the colors and shadings. I wish the movie had spent more time introducing the team members and allowing them to butt heads and form alliances before hauling out the heavy artillery.

Connery, by virtue of his commanding screen presence and Quatermain's leadership role and sense of the passage of time ("I hate getting old," he grouses before donning eyeglasses), stands out among the pack. Although he and young Sawyer develop a sort of father-son relationship, Connery never faces off against a true equal.

"League" became the subject of news stories for two unwanted reasons: catastrophic floods that struck Prague, ruined some sets and sent cast and crew fleeing, and the openly contentious relationship between Connery and the director.

The movie arrives today with bad or (worse) no buzz. Maybe I'm not running in the right circles, but I have not heard a single person say, "I cannot wait to see 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.' " I wish I could say it's a sleeper, but it's merely an abridged, awkward version of what might have been a rich, old-fashioned escape.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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