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Notes from the back row

X-Cuse me sir, you seemed to have dropped something

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Honestly, I was expecting worse. I’m talking about X-Men: The Last Stand, aka X3 . That’s because Bryan Singer, director of the first two superb comic book adaptations, jumped ship on this third installment and took his writing team with him. As a replacement, we’ve got Brett Ratner.

"Who?" you ask.

Brett Ratner, you know, the guy who directed Rush Hour 2 & 3, Money Talks, and the crapfest Red Dragon. Luckily for us, Ratner doesn’t totally wet the bed and X3, which opens Friday at the Village 8, is still pretty watchable.

Mutants, already ostracized by "normal society," are engaged in a civil war of their own. In the good corner, under the tutelage of Professor Xavier, are the X-men and their students, young mutants they’ve picked up to train and teach about peaceful co-existence with the normal folk. In the bad corner is Magneto, a shit-disturber who thinks that mutants are superior to regular people and should take their rights by force. Both sides battle for the super-powers of Phoenix, who used to be Jean Grey, an X-Man, but who died at the end of X2 and is somehow resurrected more bad-ass. (Phoenix, get it?)

Add to this a rich guy with a mutant son who develops a "cure" to genetic mutation and wants to get it weaponized and Kelsey Grammer as a blue, beastly, government statesman. Of course, the old favorites like Wolverine, Storm, and Rebecca Romijn naked are all in there, as well as some new (but old if you read the comics) characters.

While Ratner is able to mix action and drama in a fast-moving flick that blows its load at the end with a pretty impressive battle sequence, he also has too many players in this film that don’t have enough backstory, characterization or dialogue. And some, like episode 2’s awesome Nightcrawler, don’t even show up at all. A few key characters are killed off in an attempt at emotional resonance but overall this is a typical summer special effects movie lacking in subtlety and substance.

Thematically, the X-Men have always carried a subtext of social and gay rights and Ratner seems to be pushing the latter this time around. Gay people everywhere are rallying behind this picture and how it depicts society’s urge to "cure" rather than accept the mutants for who they are. Lesbians are reportedly getting behind it as well, with Halle Berry’s Storm character as their rallying point. Lucky her.

All in all, the X-Men franchise is a lot like the original Star Wars . It peaks in the second film with good characterization and a darker mood then relies more on action and momentum to carry the third. And just because this segment’s title is The Last Stand don’t be surprised if there’s another X-Men flick in the works already, the set is there anyhow.

Just in case you were wondering, Bryan Singer, original X-Men director, left to direct the new Superman movie, coming out in early June, so all you comic geeks can start salivating now.

Speaking of salivating, like when your mouth gets all spitty just before you puke, Just My Luck the new Lindsay Lohan/magic/romantic comedy is also playing at the Village 8. A stupid switched identity twist backstops a movie that’s neither funny nor romantic just predictable and plain old bad. If this is the direction Lohan’s career is going, it’ll take a Playboy pictorial to save it. Luck has nothing to do with it.

AT VILLAGE 8 May 26-June 1: X-Men Last Stand; Da Vinci Code; Poseidon; Over the Hedge; Mission Impossible 3; Just My Luck; RV.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE May 26-June 1:

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