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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is well cast but vacant overkill

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

(PG-13)

1 1/2 out of 4 stars

When the annual eight-month break from summer movies ends, some of us carry the hope that the new season will somehow be different. Maybe they could be a tad smarter, not quite as busy and certainly a whole lot shorter. Whatever optimism there was completely dissipated before the preview screening for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” even started, when it was learned the running time is two hours and 22 minutes.

In much the same manner McDonald’s views food, movie studios of late have determined that people won’t mind sub-par quality if you give them a lot of it. When you plop down in your seat with your industrial size popcorn and tankard of soda you want an equally oversized flick and if that’s all you’re looking for, “TASM2” delivers it in droves and then some. It is the very definition of vacant overkill.

Opening with the third origin scene to appear in five “Spider-Man” films, the first few minutes of “TASM2” are easily the best of the whole movie, but, like the rest of it, give us little in the way of anything original. The story of how Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) lost his parents is starting to feel like a series of outtakes from “Groundhog Day.”

Returning director Marc Webb wastes no time in getting right to the action with a spiffy fight sequence on an airplane followed by a chase scene through the streets of Manhattan. New villain Rhino (Paul Giamatti) has hijacked a truck containing plutonium, and with just enough time to spare until his high-school graduation ceremony, Spider-Man figures he can save the day, which of course he does. We won’t see Giamatti again for another two hours.

Including Oscar-nominee Giamatti, there are three other previous Academy Award winners in the cast, which begs the question, can a great cast rescue a bad script? No, they can’t. This tends to happen a lot when the screenplay is written by committee (in this case four authors) where mini-plot threads are introduced then abandoned, too many characters compete for screen time (three villains are definitely too many) and the romance angle comes across as if it were earmarked for a “Twilight” movie. Insipid and sappy dialogue with synthesized strings in the background really doesn’t fit in a superhero comic book action flick.

As far as the title character is concerned, Garfield is hands down better than Tobey Maguire in so many ways. Dark, classically handsome and possessing far more dramatic range, Garfield is also given a chance to flex his physical comedy chops, which are considerable, but also come across as if he’s co-starring in a Jackie Chan movie. As love interest Gwen Stacy, Emma Stone can run acting circles around Kirsten Dunst and is the spitting image of the in-print character conceived by creator Stan Lee all those years ago. Again, great actors delivering shoddy material kills the mood.

Showing up as villain number two is Jamie Foxx as Max/Electro, a huge Spider-Man fan and office dweeb who initially feels as if he were conceived by the writing staff of Foxx’s old TV sketch show “In Living Color.” Villain three (for a fourth time) is the Green Goblin, this time portrayed by talented newcomer Dane DeHaan, who balances dastardly suave and creepy evil quite well but again is torpedoed by dialogue that would work better for a moustache-twirling antagonist in a 1930s train-robbing serial. It’s too blunt, generic and forced.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the many CGI-heavy action sequences are edited with whiplash speed and amped-up with thunderous volume and pyrotechnics galore. Every once in a while Webb employs some slow-motion and stop-action stuff that is low or absent of sound and these are welcomed but short-lived diversions.

If you’re someone who counts product placements, you’ll have a field day; there are hundreds of them, which could be a record. In one three-second span there were six seen at the same time. A relatively new concept, product-placement not only defrays the production cost for the studio, it also gives the companies that pay a pretty penny for the privilege unique exposure in front of captive audiences. On the flip-side, it becomes a distraction, cripples the drama and decimates the suspension of disbelief.

Of the now five “Spider-Man” features, “TASM2” is easily the worst of the bunch but what’s most saddening is that it could have been the best yet. All they needed was a single good writer and the world’s greatest editor to bring it down to, say … one hour and 45 minutes and we’d have a high-end, full-course dinner instead of a third-rate, all-you-can eat lunch buffet. (Sony/Columbia)