'Hulk' Goes Heavy on Action, Light on Humor

He can hurl a Hummer with ease, roar like a lion and deflect bullets as if they were gnats. The latest "Incredible Hulk" (* * 1/2 out of four) is so steeped in action and spectacular special effects that his 2003 predecessor might be turning a more vivid green with envy.

"He picked up a forklift like it was a softball," an onlooker says in awe.

This Hulk is more viscerally angry and packs a bigger wallop than Ang Lee's talkier, more introspective version.

But it's hardly the best superhero movie around. "Iron Man" was wittier and more fun. So was the "Spider-Man" trilogy, and it can't compare with the darkly excellent "Batman Begins." But the latest Hulk is reasonably entertaining, mostly because of Edward Norton's engaging portrayal of scientist Bruce Banner, who turns into the gargantuan green monster in times of emotional stress.

The saga is uneven and there are plot holes, but as a popcorn movie steeped in action, it keeps our attention.

The film starts out intriguingly, with Banner living in obscurity, searching for an antidote while working in Brazil. In his quest for a cure, he's in constant e-mail contact with a mysterious Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson). Banner goes by -- what else -- Mr. Green. He still pines for fellow scientist Betty Ross (Liv Tyler).

But he's on the run from the military and a power-mad general (William Hurt) who wants to extract what makes him the Hulk and use it as a weapon.

The general is lining up his men to capture Banner and working the overzealous soldier Blonsky (Tim Roth) into a lather. The military hunts him down in South America, and a great chase scene ensues through the shantytowns of a Brazilian metropolis.

As the movie goes on, it grows sillier and more cartoonish. And the Hulk is a little lacking in humor.

Banner eventually reunites with Betty. And just when it looks as if he might have a happy ending, a new nemesis emerges. The Abomination has powers to rival the Hulk's, and their over-the-top face-off no doubt will satisfy the fever dreams of video-game-obsessed kids. Adults might be checking their watches. But a glimpse of Bill Bixby and a cameo by Lou Ferrigno (the TV Hulks) will amuse more mature audiences.

Robert Downey Jr. makes a brief appearance, conjuring fantasies of an "Iron Man"/"IncredibleHulk" sequel. Now that threequels are old news, the joint sequel could be the next big thing. (Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes. Opens in some cities tonight and nationwide Friday.)

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