Surf's up, but the ride isn't fantastic

'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer' will probably reap a fresh fortune. And as summer franchise superhero flicks go, it's mostly tolerable.

Most sentient people would agree that the first "Fantastic Four" movie, released in 2005, was not a masterpiece for the ages. Nevertheless, it had a theatrical gross of $330 million and was one of Twentieth Century Fox's biggest DVD titles of all time.

Not surprisingly, we now are faced with a sequel, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," and it will probably reap a fresh fortune. As summer franchise superhero flicks go, it's tolerable.

The big draw this time around is the Silver Surfer, one of the great Marvel comics creations. He looks like one of the Spartans from "300" dipped in a vat of silver paint. Surfing the universe while absorbing its cosmic energies, he's just about indestructible. As the emissary of übervillain Galactus, he's on the lookout for new planets to conquer. Like, for example, Earth. The Fantastic Four are on the front lines but there's not a lot they can do against the Silver Surfer, which makes for a lopsided series of confrontations. Also, the Four have become more human-scaled, which leaves them at a disadvantage against the likes of Galactus.

Sue Storm (Jessica Alba, tanned to a fine shade of butterscotch) wants to marry the Four's leader Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), start a family, and lead a normal life. This is not as easy as it sounds since (a) she can instantly dematerialize herself and he's as stretchy as human taffy and (b) they are constantly being pursued by tabloid journalists.

Also struggling with normality is Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), the human boulder pile, who is in a lovey-dovey relationship with a blind sculptress. Human Torch Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), Sue's brother, is as rakish as ever. The scene in which he stages a bachelor party for Reed should have been a lot more inventive. Reed performs a few slinky, sub-Travolta moves on the dance floor with some hotties and that's about it. Moments like these stand as a reminder that the target audience is teenage boys.

I appreciated the occasional attempt by director Tim Story and screenwriter Don Payne to reach out to adults. Some of the jokes are borderline sophisticated. The filmmakers also don't sell out the series in the spirit of wholesomeness. "Who says you have to be normal to have a family?" Sue concludes by the end. In other words, get ready for "Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Open Relationship." Grade: B–

• Rated PG for sequences of action violence, some mild language, and innuendo.

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