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Superman wears
Prada

Superman wears
Prada

Superprada

Superman Returns and The Devil Wears Prada both soar--and eventually crash.

Out director Bryan Singer's sequel pretends that Superman III and IV never happened and begins with Superman (Brandon Routh) returning to Earth after a five-year absence. But while he was out in space looking for Krypton, lots of things have changed--Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a new boyfriend and a child, while nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) got released from prison after Superman failed to show up and testify at one of Luthor's many appeals. The Earth rejoices at the return of the hero, but can he find a place in Lois's new life and stop Luthor's latest devious scheme?

Singer directed what I think is the best of the superhero movies so far--X2--and he displays a mostly sure hand here, from the splashy action sequences to the quiet moments. "You will believe a man can fly" was the pitch for the 1978 Christopher Reeve movie, but this time, you'll believe a man can float.Superman Returns allows Superman just to hover sometimes, and it adds a delicate, human touch to the proceedings. (On the other end of the spectrum, Singer also pays more attention to things like sonic booms and shock waves when Superman is flying at full-tilt-boogie speed.)

While watching Superman rescue a plummeting plane or sinking ship is exciting--and both sequences are quite breathtaking in IMAX 3D, should you have the opportunity to see them that way--Singer has a deft touch for the character's gentler side. When Clark Kent uses his X-ray vision to watch Lois Lane float upward in an elevator, or when Superman takes Lois for a flight above Metropolis--her feet resting on his, like a young girl dancing with her father--the images contain the visual lyricism of the best silent cinema.

The second bananas are also lots of fun. Sam Huntington--so charming in the gay comedy Freshman Orientation, which finally hits theaters this fall--makes an endearingly goofy Jimmy Olsen, and even gets to share the screen with out actor Jack Larson, who played Jimmy in the classic '50s TV series. (That show's Lois Lane, actress Noel Neill, gets a cameo as well.) Parker Posey steals scene after scene as Kitty, Luthor's moll--she gets more comic mileage out of clomping across a room than most actresses could milk from an entire screenplay. And Spacey, freed of the burden of trying to be a charismatic leading man, shines as the villainous Luthor. Let's hope he realizes that audiences want him to be a despicable prick on-screen and not friggin' K-PAX or whoever.

Comic book geeks will enjoy a few details meant solely for them, from the visual shout-out to Action Comics #1 to Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella) muttering "Great Caesar's ghost." But given the comic book Superman's refusal to ever kill anyone--a character trait that was a big part of the lead-up to DC's recent Infinite Crisis series--it's a little surprising that three bad guys die at Superman's hand, albeit indirectly. This may be fanboy hair-splitting, but I was surprised that the movie was so cavalier about it. There's also a sequence where our hero gets a humiliating beat-down at the hands of Luthor and his henchmen that's just a little too Passion of the Superman for my tastes--if you're taking a young child to the movie, this scene would be a good time for a bathroom break.

So why isn't Superman Returns a 100% success? The pacing, for one thing. Singer's X2 was 133 minutes long and zipped by like 80. Superman's 155 minutes, however, begin to take their toll in the last act, particularly since the movie front-loads its action sequences and then tries to make it on character and plot for the last 20 minutes or so. It doesn't work.

And the casting of the leads, alas, presents an insurmountable problem. Newcomer Routh would be just perfect if this movie were called Superman Begins. But he's too young-looking to be believable as having been an established superhero before disappearing for five years. Bosworth as Lois Lane has the same age issue, but on top of that is the fact that she's one of the screen's most vapid actresses. It doesn't help her, of course, that Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris's screenplay portrays Lois as a total dipshit--we're supposed to believe a Pulitzer-winner would ask "How many f's in 'catastrophic'?" and that she would drag her asthmatic 4-year-old child into a potentially dangerous situation. Not exactly a role model for women in journalism, this one.

And speaking of bad messages for working women of the press, this week also gives us The Devil Wears Prada, starring Anne Hathaway as Andy, a recent Northwestern graduate looking to break into journalism in New York City. Despite her disdain for fashion, she winds up getting a plum gig as assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the high priestess of Runway magazine, the world's leading bible of couture. Priestly is, naturally, the boss from hell, constantly rattling off absurd lists of demands before dispatching underlings with a condescending "That's all," but anyone who can survive her mentorship can write their own media ticket.

And so, with the help of the magazine's fey fashionista Nigel (Stanley Tucci), Andy learns the biz and starts dressing better too. This, of course, leads to the standard post-Pretty Woman trying-on-clothes montage, but Hathaway does wind up in one outfit that made me squeal over a costume for the first time since Down With Love. Andy's round-the-clock job, however, does begin to put a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, played by Entourage's Adrien Grenier.

And that's where Prada began to lose me. What begins as a flashy, witty, workplace comedy--anchored by Streep's deliciously malicious performance--horrifyingly transmogrifies into one of those hoary 1950s melodramas like The Best of Everything, where young women are warned that if they put their career first, they'll never get a man and thus become hard, shriveled, and useless. It's one thing for the Streep character to be Cruella De Vil in the boardroom and lonely, abandoned Miss Havisham behind brownstone doors, but I totally didn't buy it when Andy's friends turn on her for spending so much time at work. Excuse me, kids in your 20s, but you moved to New York City to make it in your chosen fields. And last time I checked, that involved working a few nights and weekends.

Perhaps Andy would be happier at the Daily Planet, letting Lois Lane and her bad spelling duke it out with Miranda.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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