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One could use many different adjectives to describe the latest comic book-based superhero film from 20th Century Fox, Marvel Enterprises and director Tim Story. But "fantastic" isnt one of them. Try boring, irrelevant or formulaic for starters. These words at least begin to capture the essence of "Fantastic Four," a film based upon a once popular comic book. From there, you could move on to insipid, mindless and insulting.

The film tells the story of five astronauts/scientists who gain superpowers after an accident in space alters their DNA. Unfortunately, one of them is a bad egg, and so the other four must join forces in order to stop his presumably evil plans.

That's right. Four against one. In most circles, that would be called an unfair advantage. But here, it's heroic.

Excluding the sheer overexposure of this particular effects-driven genre, "Fantastic Four's" greatest flaw is in its poorly drafted characters. The film has a quartet of protagonists, plus one laughably over-the-top villain (Julian McMahon). Unfortunately, none of them are interesting or unique. Each leading character is a blatant stereotype borrowed from the annals of regurgitated plots and lazy writing.

First, you have Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), the "science guy" who is so intelligent and focused he cannot relate to real life or love. In addition to being exceedingly dull, Reed is too clueless to realize one of the most attractive and smartest women in the world is throwing herself at him. Second, you have Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), whose sole distinguishing characteristic ? apart from her looks and alleged brains ? is she's hopelessly devoted to Reed. Susan is the feminine role model so many have been hoping to squelch for years, a woman who is waiting around for an idiotic guy to give her a ring.

Third, you have Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), Susan's wild, uncontrollable brother who acts according to whatever whim comes his way. Not the sharpest tack, Johnny lives for the spotlight and the hope of convincing another hot babe to join his entourage. He's the sort of character that used to appear in Westerns and get shot in the middle of act two.

Fourth, you have Ben Grimm (the aptly named Michael Chikless), who plays a misunderstood sidekick ? the straight guy for most of the film's lazy jokes. Besides being the film's punching bag, Ben is there to inject some clumsy sentimentality into the film. He's the unconvincing version of Ernest Borgnine in "Marty," a sad sack incapable of finding love.

Throughout the film, our characters never grow or tap into a truly human moment. They remain comic book characters throughout. Thus, the love story is unconvincing and the losses suffered never really hit home.

Add to that a lot of bad dialogue, a forgettable villain, and a nonexistent storyline, and you have ? your typical underwhelming summer blockbuster.

Films like "Elektra," "Van Helsing," "The Hulk" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" should have slowed all this superhero nonsense. Unfortunately, films like "Spiderman 2" and "Batman Begins" keep the comic book fire burning. Hopefully, "Fantastic Four" will stop the insanity.

"Fantastic Four" is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some suggestive content.

Rating: C-

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