Who knew that an inflatable lawn decoration could cause so much damage?
That's exactly what Ol' Greenskin looks like through much of "The Hulk," a massively ill-conceived and -executed adaptation of the Marvel Comics perennial. The CGI in filmmaker Ang Lee's megabucks mistake is so shoddy that the transformation between tortured scientist and lumbering behemoth frequently appears to have been accomplished via one bicycle pump and a lot of huffin' and puffin'. The result is a synthetic lead character more suited to the grand opening of an auto dealership than a theatrical feature.
The deficiency might not be so glaring had Lee honored the property's origins as a Cold War monster mash. Instead, the director has succumbed to the crippling desire to make an important picture. With the help of screenwriters James Schamus, John Turman and Michael France, he's turned the simple source tale (atomic explosion creates emerald menace from bespectacled milquetoast) into a mutant cousin to that whiniest of modern animals: the Bad Dad movie.
In this incarnation, Doc Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is the victim of a genetic curse passed down to him by his loony father (Nick Nolte, in scary-old-guy mode â?¦ oh, wait, that's just him). Accidental exposure to radiation wakes something dormant in Bruce, causing him to change color and shirt size whenever his anger rises to the surface. The phenomenon puts Bruce at odds with army general 'Thunderboltâ?� Ross (Sam Elliott); acting as intermediary is Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), the general's daughter and Bruce's sometime squeeze.
But most of the friction is between Bruce and his pop. Just what did the crackpot researcher do to make his boy so susceptible to freakhood? Where's Mom? And how many dysfunctional-family metaphors can Lee dole out before he realizes he's pounding a square peg into a round hole?
Connelly, riffing on her role in "A Beautiful Mind," assembles the closest thing to a credible performance. Bana is passive to the point of stupidity, bested like everyone else by the script's lousy dialogue ('What about my DNA?â?�) and leaden pacing. Just getting to the Hulk's first appearance takes about 40 minutes of screen time. To create the illusion of activity, Lee crams the screen with ostentatious split frames, wipes and dissolves -- enough to make "Creepshow" look like a Dogme project.
Prospects start looking up in the third act, with a monster/army clash that approximates the flair of the Marvel strip. Even our jade hero suddenly appears marginally convincing. (Must have been a second unit.) But soon enough, he's back to being The Inflatable Hulk, and Nolte and Bana are again hip-deep in family-therapy blather. Come back, Daredevil; all is forgiven.