English lit saves the day

Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," a fantasy inviting us to feast our eyes on marvels like the "phonograph," the "submarine," and - hang on to your hats - the "automobile."

Clearly those Hollywood moguls think we'll swallow any wild idea they pitch at us! But you can't pin this escapade on Twentieth Century Fox, since they just borrowed the movie's premise from Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill, whose graphic novel runs along similar lines.

The basic idea is that a band of 19th-century adventurers agree to perform a service for the British Empire. The story's big gimmick is that we're already familiar with them from other yarns: Captain Nemo from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," mad scientist Henry Jekyll from "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Mina Harker from "Dracula," and so on. Less complex than the comic book, the movie centers on their efforts to stop the villainous Fantom - sorry, folks, that's how they spell it.

Mr. Moore's ambitious "From Hell" was turned into horror-flick chopped liver in 1999, and something similar happens here, starting with the fact that several characters are deprived of their most interesting traits - the Invisible Man is now a common crook, Dr. Jekyll is a pallid wimp, and the pathetic, opium- addicted Allan Quatermain becomes none other than Sean Connery. At least he gives a real movie-star performance, which is more than the other gentlemen manage. Extraordinary? Balderdash!

Rated PG-13; contains violence.

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