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0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

Review: Latest Spider-Man Movie Strains For Laughs


If you’re one of the dozen or so people in the world that has been eagerly hoping for a mash-up of a superhero movie and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” the benevolent genies of Hollywood have made your dream come true. 

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" reboots the Marvel franchise and gives us a 15-year-old Peter Parker who is not only struggling to master his super-powers; he’s also trying to work up the courage to ask his gorgeous classmate to the big homecoming dance and somehow balance saving the world with participating in the big academic competition in Washington, D.C.

He’s geeky and gawky and klutzy and overly impulsive, with the squeakiest adolescent-male voice since Mickey Rooney played Andy Hardy. We got a taste of this overhauled Spidey in "Captain America: Civil War." And "Homecoming" proves two and a half hours of the character is much too much.

Unhappy with the box office results of 2014’s "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," which starred Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and a badly miscast Jamie Foxx as the villain - the brain trust at Sony Pictures decided to turn back the clock, making Spider-Man about 10 years younger than before. Garfield has relinquished the Spider suit to British actor Tom Holland, who does his best to wring humor out of the weak wisecracks cooked up by not one, not two, but six screenwriters. The alleged laugh-lines may get pre-teens giggling, but slightly older viewers may experience flashbacks to George Clooney’s notorious "Batman and Robin," which also overdosed on lame jokes and clumsy comedy.

Nobody can say "Homecoming" doesn’t try hard to please. Director Jon Watts and that sextet of scribes anxiously throw in a little something for everyone - from a soundtrack stuffed with classic rock and ‘80s anthems, to Michael Keaton as the high-flying bad guy, to cameo appearances by Iron Man and Captain America. There’s Disney Channel ingénue Zendaya and Oscar winner Marisa Tomei as Aunt May in skin-tight mom-jeans.

You get the feeling "Homecoming" was put together not by filmmakers, but by focus groups in a marketing meeting. But like a defective jigsaw puzzle, the pieces never properly fit together. The more the movie strains for chuckles, the more it tries your patience – that is, unless you crack up at the thought of seeing Spider-Man getting dragged by a speeding truck and squealing, “Ouch, my butt!” as he zooms along.

So determined is "Homecoming" to win over the segment of the audience that wasn’t even born when Tobey Maguire was still playing Spider-Man. It wastes plenty of screen time on Peter’s high school mishaps, even saddling him with a chubby chatterbox of a best friend who is obsessed with "Star Wars" and who is even more socially inept than Peter.

Zendaya is appealingly offbeat as the jaded, acerbic loner who keeps a close eye on Peter even while she’s pretending to completely ignore him, but her character does little except react to everyone around her. Similarly, Tomei’s talents are mostly wasted as well, since she is given exactly two notes to play: caring and clueless.

The only one who gets a chance to shine is Keaton, who all but seizes the screen in each of his scenes. He plays Adrian Toomes, a city contractor who was shafted by the government and has used stolen technology to create otherworldly weapons. The specifics of Toomes’ master plan remain murky, and there’s not much reason for him to soar around the city with a pair of enormous wings. But Keaton is typically right on the money as a disgruntled working man trying to settle old scores - and he’s certainly more fun to watch than most of the film’s overblown, under-cooked action sequences (many of which feature surprisingly sketchy visual effects.)

Maybe the pre-teens and tweens will appreciate "Homecoming" as a kind of super-sized Saturday matinee. Unfortunately, those of us who are at least a few years out of high school have seen director Sam Raimi’s original "Spider-Man" and his even better sequel "Spider-Man 2"; those films remain two of the best superhero epics ever.

"Spider-Man: Homecoming," like its hapless hero, wants to reach the same dizzying heights, but keeps getting tangled up in its own web.

James Sanford has been reviewing films since he was hired by the Grand Rapids Press at the age of 16. Since then, he's written for many publications and websites, including WMUK. He's current a staff reporter at the Battle Creek Enquirer. Sanford has also appeared om stage at the API, New Vic, and Whole Art theaters in Kalamazoo. He was a member of the Crawlspace Eviction comedy troupe for six years and starred and co-wrote the feature film "Comic Evangelists," which was showcased at the American Film Instutute's 2006 festival in Hollywood. He's also the author of two memoirs: The Sum of My Parts and Au Naturel: A Summer on Martha’s Vineyard".
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