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By Michael Calleri

Before Hollywood runs out of comic book characters around whom it can build movie franchises, you may well run out of patience.

Far into the future, the summer blockbuster season will showcase films that have protagonists, mostly male, generated from the pages of colorful reading material, which, long ago and far away, were sometimes seen as antithetical to culture and education. Yes, comic books were once the enemy to many prudes and pedants. These days they are the box office salvation to most of the major American movie studios.

This week's theatrical entry is "Captain America: The First Avenger," which is not exactly a title that's been leaping off the shelves. I often wonder who's still reading these adventure comics, but it's clear people are.

Enter Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the puny, rail-thin, geeky young man who will become, thanks to some mighty powerful genetic juicing, a strapping World War II Nazi hunter, which, considering the historical period, is probably one of the easier jobs for a superhero. The world certainly wasn't lacking for Nazis in the 1940s.

The film's biggest selling point is how closely it adheres to the tenor of the times, an era when the world was torn about by Adolf Hitler's grand schemes, and there was nobody like a red-blooded American to battle him every step of the way.

Scrawny Steve is an eager kid from Brooklyn who has one ambition: He only wants to fight for freedom. But every time he tries to enlist, he's rejected because he's all skin and bones and tiny and, although good-hearted, doesn't quite come across as military material.

However, Steve soon catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (played by Stanley Tucci). Erskine is a German scientist, now working for the Americans. He takes kindly to Steve. He agrees to let him take part in a special program. After some usual experiment-in-a-laboratory special effects involving a secret serum, Steve is no longer a runt, but is instead a well-muscled fighting machine.

And he's still a nice guy.

He becomes Captain America and is used by the government to sell war bonds and act in propaganda movies. Unhappy with being paraded around the country, he balks at the prepackaged tasks he's assigned, and will move on to fight the villainous Johann Schmidt, a fanatical Nazi who controls a strange energy source that he claims comes from Nordic gods.

"Captain America" is basic movie entertainment. Evans is good as Rogers, and he brings a pleasing likability to the role. Overall, the feature is harmless fun, coming across as the kind of motion picture kids in the 1940s would have gone to see. The special effects are serviceable, which means there's no reason to choose 3-D over 2-D.

Joe Johnston directs without any unique flourishes, and the screenplay by Buffalo's Christopher Markus, rebounding from his work on the weak Narnia movies, and Stephen McFeeley is solid, if unsurprising. "Captain America: The First Avenger" is a throwback to the patriotic spirit of World War II movies from the 1940s. It's also clearly an introduction to future sequels.

When the primary selling point of your movie is that its male star shows his derriere, you don't have much of a movie to sell. It should be pointed out that the female star is also nude, but she had a stand-in for her rear-end nudity.

The infantilism of all of this boggles the mind. Who sits at these meetings and says, "Let's have Justin talk about how he had to tone his butt because of the sex scenes?" With each passing day, Hollywood regresses into the abyss.

The film is called "Friends With Benefits," and it's the second time this year we've seen a movie in which a friend has sex with another friend without becoming emotionally attached.

This time around, Mila Kunis is a headhunter in New York City who recruits Los Angeles-based Justin Timberlake for a job at GQ magazine. He's some sort of web design genius, web designing being the hot career in the current spate of failed romantic comedies.

Despite being attractive and smart, both Kunis and Timberlake are flops at maintaining relationships. Same old, same old, but this is what we're handed.

So the two of them have sex and agree to be friends with benefits. These benefits are the opportunity to have endless sex without falling deeply in love. Sex for sex's sake is fine, but you can't hang an entire movie on this wobbly hook. There's nowhere to go.

Of course there are complications, which calls into question the entire premise of the film. The question the audience is asking is this: Will Justin and Mila remain friends or fall head over heels in love?

You're forgiven if you don't care because, although Kunis tries hard and is believable, Timberlake is too detached from his character. He exudes a slick shallowness. Hollywood keeps trying to make him a movie star, but it's a hopeless cause. He always comes across as one dimensional. There's no depth to his acting.

"Friends With Benefits" has a story and screenplay by four writers, including director Will Gluck. That's too many. Neither the directing nor the writing stand out.

Kunis and Timberlake are personable, but this isn't MTV, where fans of the two would keep them on the air. Moviegoers show support with their word of mouth, which won't be favorable.

There's some cute stuff in the film, but nothing is really all that original. If you enjoy watching pretty young things pretend to have sex, then by all means, see it. For those of you with standards for both wit and substance, there are better things you can do with your time.

"The Trip" is one of the funniest, and simplest, movies in years. British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star as themselves in this road trip delight in which the two men travel the hinterlands exploring northern English cuisine. Coogan has been hired to write an article, and only Brydon agrees to accompany him. When not eating and joking about the food, the two men spend much of their time doing delicious impressions of famous people, including Michael Caine, Woody Allen and Sean Connery. The film is off-beat, off-kilter and off-the-charts hilarious.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 26, 2011