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`Hulk' big, bad; story dull.

Byline: Daniel M. Kimmel

COLUMN: MOVIE REVIEW

Didn't they just do a "Hulk" movie? For Marvel Comics fans, the 2003 "Hulk" was a disappointment, and it didn't do much better with general audiences. "The Incredible Hulk" pretends that movie never happened, and starts the saga all over again. Marvel fans will swoon at the film's fidelity to its source material, which goes far beyond the obligatory Stan Lee cameo.

As before, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) has been altered in an experiment gone wrong. When angered or put under too much pressure he transforms into the giant, powerful and green-skinned Hulk. In that form he has little control over his actions. Thus, the story opens with him in hiding in Brazil, trying to prevent the transformation from reoccurring. General Ross (William Hurt) wants to track him down, hoping to utilize his powers to create a super soldier. To that end he has brought in Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who will undergo a separate experiment to try to make him powerful enough to face the Hulk. You can guess how things will go wrong on that front.

There's also a love interest. The general's daughter Betty - yes, Betty Ross - is Bruce's old girlfriend who thinks he's dead. Imagine her surprise when she finds out he's not. There's also wacky scientist Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) who is supposed to be helping Banner, but seems to be developing his own agenda.

There might have been an interesting story among all the comic book trappings, as there were in the "X-Men" movies and this year's "Iron Man," but there isn't. Instead we get a series of chases and showdowns. There's one in Brazil, another on Betty's college campus, and another in Manhattan. By the time the Hulk is battling the Abomination (Blonsky's new alter ego) it's simply watching two special effects go after each other. Were Norton and Roth even on the set when these fights were being staged?

If the new movie pretends the last one has vanished, it pays great homage to both the comic books and the `70s television show. Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk on TV, shows up as a security guard. The late Bill Bixby, who played Banner, pops up in a rerun of another of his shows, "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." It's on a TV set in Brazil, dubbed into Portuguese, making it an amusing tip of the hat.

The acting, however, is strictly by the numbers. Norton, an outstanding actor elsewhere, seems confined by the part of Banner. Liv Tyler, both lovely and talented, keeps getting miscast as academic types, which she just can't carry off. Hurt and Roth mostly growl. When Robert Downey Jr. shows up for a cameo (and to tie this film to "Iron Man"), his few moments on screen are a stark reminder of what this film is lacking.

While skeptics are unlikely to be converted, "The Incredible Hulk" is a must for the fans, and can be enjoyed by those who like this sort of thing, so long as they're not expecting too much.

`The Incredible Hulk'

**1/2

A Universal Pictures release

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) will be altered in an experiment gone wrong.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Movie review
Date:Jun 13, 2008
Words:560
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