What the Hell Were They Thinking?!

Multiple shots of Batman’s leather-clad ass is just what the franchise has been needing. Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Chris O’Donnell and Academy Award winners Nicole Kidman and Tommy Lee Jones star in Batman Forever.

Batman ForeverCast of Characters:
Bruce Wayne/Batman – Val Kilmer
Harvey Dent/Two-Face – Tommy Lee Jones
Edward Nygma/The Riddler – Jim Carrey
Dr. Chase Meridian – Nicole Kidman
Dick Grayson/Robin – Chris O’Donnell
Alfred Pennyworth – Michael Gough
Commissioner James Gordon – Pat Hingle
Sugar – Drew Barrymore
Spice – Debi Mazar

Director – Joel Schumacher
Screenplay – Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler & Akiva Goldsman
Based on characters created by Bob Kane
Producer – Tim Burton & Peter MacGregor-Scott
Rated PG-13 for strong stylized action

In Gotham City, a new face of terror has entered the scene: Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), Gotham’s former DA Harvey Dent now turned into a disfigured madman. As Two-Face plots his mayhem and destruction, Wayne Enterprises researcher Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey) has developed a device that will manipulate brain waves through television signals. After Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) rejects the prototype, claiming it raises too many questions, a spurned Nygma vows to get revenge by becoming the criminal mastermind Riddler.

Meanwhile, back at the Batcave, Batman has his hands full with a obsessed psychiatrist, Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), who’s too busy dreaming about getting boned by the Dark Knight to actually be doing her job of analyzing people’s problems, and a petulant newly-made orphan, courtesy of Two-Face, named Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell). How will ever find the time to stop Two-Face and the Riddler after they’ve joined forces to bring him down?

While it wasn’t as great as the first film, Batman Returns was still a solid followup to Tim Burton’s 1989 take on the Caped Crusader that received favorable reviews and grossed nearly $270 million on an $80 million budget. Believing that grossing over triple its budget wasn’t good enough and adding to that complaints from parents over Burton’s darker depiction of Batman, Warner Bros. declined on bringing the director back for the franchise’s third installment, Batman Forever, though he’d stay on as producer.

Much to his chagrin, I’m sure.

Once Burton was replaced by The Lost Boys director Joel Schumacher, Michael Keaton decided to vacate his role of the title protagonist, and after considering Ethan Hawke and maybe even going for a squinty-eyed, pursed-lipped Batman with William Baldwin, eventually settled on Iceman himself, Val Kilmer.

With all the new pieces set in place, what is it that we get? A film that doesn’t hold back from the very first moments the LED-lighted, dildo-shaped Batmobile pops up from underground (that must be why “chicks dig the car” as Robin says in Batman & Robin), while Alfred insists that Master Wayne take a sandwich with him on his crime-fighting adventure.

Don’t worry, Al. He’ll get drive-thru.

What the fuck?

In my review of Batman & Robin, I stated the following: “The difference between the disasters that are Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin is this: Batman Forever is like getting shot in the head. Yeah, it’s bad, but – Bang! It’s done. It’s over. Batman & Robin, though is like getting shot in the balls. It won’t kill you, but it’s gonna hurt like a bitch, you’re never ever gonna forget the experience and you might possibly need surgery afterward.”

Apparently, some have misconstrued my words there as a ringing endorsement for Joel Schumacher’s first stab at Batman, all ’cause it’s not at the level of catastrophe as Batman & Robin. Make no mistake, it may not be a bullet to the balls, but it’s still a bullet to the head. In other words, you’re getting shot at either way. Batman Forever just happens to be a tad more efficient at killing you quicker.

With this third installment, gone is the dark approach that Burton fittingly gave to his two adaptations of the character called the “Dark” Knight. Under Schumacher’s command, a new tone and style was decided upon. I can’t quite put a name on it. Flamboyant? No. Extravagant? No. Gaudy? No. I think the best way to describe all the glitz, glam, flashy neon, pizzazz, cartoonish acting and barrage of ass shots is a Spencer’s gift shop vomiting all over the production set.

It’s one thing to have a campy Batman that embraces its campiness like the Adam West TV series of the ’60s did. It’s another to have a darker approach such as Burton’s fantastical version of Gotham and Christopher Nolan’s gritty, more realistic version. Schumacher and Co. seem to want it both ways, and the coming together of both the flamingly flamboyant and the gritty, darker side of Batman meshes as comfortably as Ipecac in the digestive system. Just in the first five minutes, Batman Forever lets its obnoxious loudness and Broadway sense of style known so explosively it makes a Baz Luhrmann collaboration with Michael Bay look like the Dardenne brothers.

What sucks the most here is that, God bless him, Val Kilmer’s actually trying. In the hands of a director better suited for this genre and a much better script, Kilmer could’ve pulled off a pretty good Bruce Wayne/Batman, which is a lot more than I can say for the rest of the cast. Nicole Kidman, playing the least-qualified, most over-sexed psychiatrist in the history of psychiatry, is easy on the eyes and extremely painful on the ears as she sexually harasses Batman at every opportunity made available to her, even making false-alarm Bat signal calls to lure him over to her.

This woman needs a Sexaholics Anonymous stat.

Fairing no better or worse are Jim Carrey and Chris O’Donnell as the Riddler and Robin. We’re not exactly watching Carrey play the Riddler as much as we’re watching Carrey play Jim Carrey doing an impression of Jim Carrey as the Riddler. Yeah, I know, Jack Nicholson did the same as the Joker in Batman. Nicholson also wasn’t in a film that goes straight to eleven and then skyrockets all the way to eleven thousand from there. O’Donnell gets the short end of the stick as Robin, and that there speaks for itself.

Yep, that’s just what the franchise really needed – the butt of a million homoerotic jokes.

But the winner take all here is none other than Tommy Lee Jones, whose performance as Two-Face takes over-the-top to levels that stretch out to galaxies we haven’t even yet discovered. Taking a character known for tormented duality and mangling it into an irritating caricature too clownish for even the Joker’s standards, Jones gives one of the worst performances I have ever seen, and it’s amplified all the more in that he’s an Oscar-winning actor, with three separate nominations to his name as well, and not some scrub (Jones was able to pull off over-the-top to insanely beautiful effect in Oliver Stone’s media-skewering satire Natural Born Killers). Duality and fate are two complex themes that define Two-Face, but that complexity has been erased by scribes Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman in favor of having Jones begin each sentence calmly and stoically before erupting into wide-eyed buffoonery.

“Release Chase. This is between you and me.”, Batman says to the Riddler.

“And me.”, Two-Face intimidatingly replies as he butts into the standoff.

“ANNNND MEEEE!!!!!!!!”, he then blurts out loud in obnoxious, drunken fashion as he coats the entire cast and crew in a sea of saliva while bobbing around like a Benny Hinn congregate filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time.

Get it? Hey, everyone! You get it? ‘Cause he’s got two faces, he says it twice, just infinitely more manic the second time for the crazy side… Get it?

Oh, and did you know acid doesn’t burn your flesh away? No, it turns it fuchsia.

Displaying enough lights, flash and garish style to power about a thousand Studio 54s, Batman Forever drastically yanks the franchise wheel to the left and goes flying off the bridge, subjecting viewers to a style and tone that shifts away from its predecessors so violently it could give them neck trauma. When a film has two Oscar winners, one of Hollywood’s biggest funnymen, a proven filmmaker serving as producer and a director whose credentials beforehand are actually pretty solid, yet the only good thing to come out of it is a closing credits U2 song, that’s a big pulsating tell-tale heart of a sign that the trash heap sucks.

Lucky for us all, the sequel would surely right the franchise’s proverbial ship…

Toward a George Clooney/Arnold Schwarzenegger shaped iceberg, where it’d sink straight into the abyss.

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