Supersized: Hulk's not Hogan's hero

Frame for frame, Ang Lee is one of the best filmmakers around, but when it comes to combining those frames into a full-length feature, his results can be as erratic as anybody's. The Hulk isn't as bad as his worst, Ride with the Devil, but neither is it as good as his other half-dozen films.

Like the title character The Hulk is a mix of good and bad elements. When I debated it with a friend and fellow critic after the screening, we were pretty much in agreement on its merits and demerits, but for her the good outweighed the bad and for me the reverse was true.

Action fans may be disappointed at having to wait 40 minutes for Hulk's first appearance. Animal lovers will have several reasons to be upset, notably a sequence in which the computer-generated Hulk battles a number of computer-generated hellhounds and dispatches them in particularly nasty ways. Expect the Virtual Humane Society to protest.

The CGI work is certainly impressive, another step toward doing away with live actors altogether, although it gets a bit silly when Hulk discovers he can leap about half a mile at a time. I know this isn't a documentary, but come on.

If you thought Spider-Man took time spinning its web, The Hulk makes that look like part of the Fast and Furious franchise. The story isn't very focused as it rambles through Bruce Banner's (Eric Bana) repressed memories of his scientist father injecting him with more of the experimental stuff that had already altered his genes before he was born. The script is so concerned with secondary meanings for everything that the first meaning often doesn't make sense.

As an "emotionally distant," 30-something adult, Bruce has obviously found his soulmate in Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly), whose father (Sam Elliott), now a four-star general, had institutionalized Bruce's father (now Nick Nolte) when Bruce was a child. Daddy Banner is out now and working as a janitor in Bruce and Betty's lab so he can snoop around because, without being aware of his origins, Bruce is doing the same kind of research his father did.

Betty is estranged from her father too, rightly assuming he's interested in her work because of its possible military applications (e.g., making soldiers "instantly repairable on the battlefield"). His former flunky, Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) is a civilian now, working for a corporation that's competing with the army to take over the lab. It's internecine war in the military-industrial complex.

Director Lee (no relation to Marvel Comics mogul Stan Lee, who cameos with Lou Ferrigno as security guards) doesn't exactly cut to the chase, but he gets there eventually. Bruce takes in some "nanomeds" and then is exposed to massive amounts of gamma rays. The result, as comic fans know well, is that when he gets pissed off he turns green and grows to several times his original size.

When this happens, of course, most of his clothes tear up and fall off, but his midsection miraculously remains discreetly covered. We all know why this happens– if his naughty bits showed, Hulk would look like the creature from The Blue Lagoon, and the movie would get a more restrictive rating– but can anyone explain how it happens?

That's one of many mysteries about The Hulk, many of them centered in a sequence where Bruce and his father are simultaneously supersized, the father in an unusual form, and they supposedly are able to exchange energy or something.

If Hulk is our hero, does that mean it's now all right to cheer for him when he's fighting the US Army? In a desert war he does better against them than the Iraqi army did.

Give Ang Lee credit for picking up on the visual aspect of comic book layouts with imaginative use of split screens and creative dissolves, wipes, and such.

Among the many groups The Hulk is not for, you should include children. I sat in front of a young moviegoer from hell, a seat-kicking chatterbox of perhaps six or seven who knew more ways to make noise with a soda cup than science has discovered. The studios want us to see movies like The Hulk with "real people," and whether we like the movie or not we often come away wondering why anyone would pay money to subject themselves to a similar experience.