Hulk's origin myth is tweaked from the Marvel Comic mythos with a Roald Dahl twist. But instead of royal jelly, the psycho father in this instance--one David Banner--exposes his infant son, Bruce, to an experimental regenerative serum whose side effects include insane anger. Naturally, this genetic gambit does not turn out well, and leads to a tragedy that lands Bruce in an adoptive home with no memories of his previous life.
Flashing forward some 30 years, Bruce (Eric Bana) is now a well-intentioned but seriously repressed scientist whose colleague and girlfriend, Betty (Jennifer Connelly), has just broken up with him for being emotionally distant. The two remain close as friends and co-workers, though Betty is forced to face how deeply she still cares (evinced more by glycerine tears than performance) when Bruce inexplicably survives a lab accident that douses him with that sci-fi stand-by, gamma radiation. Remarkably unscathed, Bruce in fact feels stronger than ever. That's because, though this hasn't made it into most Chemistry 101 textbooks, pharmaceutically-enhanced DNA plus technicolor radiation unleashes the giant green bodybuilder with a penchant for surprisingly extensile purple pants within us all.
Once Bruce's alter ego comes out of Hyde-ing, the requisite hard-ass army guys--and, bizarrely, a ridiculously jerky nemesis (Josh Lucas) who would be more at home in an Adam Sandler movie--spend the rest of the movie hunting the Hulk and getting the PG-13 tar beaten out of them. Too much of this takes place in the desert, which is at first visually arresting but where there's not a whole lot of interesting stuff for Hulk to smash. And when the action finally makes it to the topographically and demographically promising San Francisco, there's not a single reaction shot from a civilian to reinforce the spectacle.
The computer-animated Hulk is an unconvincing hybrid of realism and cartoon, and the same could be said for the film. Occasionally, scenes are framed by comic-book panels, but the randomness of this device reduces it to a gimmick. Likewise, we have serious actors in an over-the-top King Kong fable; the underacting in such a context feels more like apathy. Starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte and Sam Elliott. Directed by Ang Lee. Written by John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Avi Arad, James Schamus and Larry Franco. A Universal release. Action/Drama. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some disturbing images and brief partial nudity. Running time: 138 min