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Directed by Peter Hewitt

Written by Adam Rifkin and

Daniel Berenbaum

Starring Tim Allen, Courteney Cox, Chevy Chase

Classification: G

Rating: *½

Afamily-friendly adventure about a washed-up superhero who trains a quartet of specially gifted youngsters, Zoom is a movie that you've probably seen several times already. This vehicle for former Home Improvement star Tim Allen recycles ideas, characters and tropes from many other superhero comics and flicks, most prominently The Incredibles, Fantastic Four and the X-Men franchise.

It's hardly surprising that Zoom inspired a lawsuit when the project was announced by Sony Pictures and Revolution Studios last year. 20th Century Fox and Marvel Enterprises felt the script -- loosely based on Jason Lethcoe's graphic novel Zoom's Academy -- infringed on their X-Men copyright. Nor were they happy about Zoom's original release date, which would have put the movie in theatres a few weeks before X-Men: The Last Stand. The suit was soon dropped and Sony postponed the release to August, the month that serves as the studios' dumping ground for low-priority releases. Indeed, Zoom slipped into theatres last Friday without any press screenings and only a modest amount of advertising -- never a good sign.

As if suspecting any effort on his part would be fruitless, Allen doesn't show much enthusiasm for the endeavour. He plays Captain Zoom, a grouchy guy who used to be as speedy as The Flash back when he was part of a government-sponsored superhero squad 30 years before. When the world is threatened by Zoom's old nemesis Concussion (Kevin Zegers, a native of Woodstock, Ont.), the military enlists him to help a quartet of new trainees. The group includes a six-year-old girl with superhuman strength, a teenage hunk who can turn invisible, a husky boy who can expand his shape and a telekinetic teenage girl who bears a suspicious resemblance to X-Men's Jean Grey.

Bitter at his former employers for exposing his original team to way too much gamma radiation, Zoom displays little energy for his new task, despite the urgings of a clumsy psychologist played by Courteney Cox. More would-be comic relief is provided by Chevy Chase as a scientist who is tormented in a series of gags that even five-year-olds will find strained.

Despite the legal wrangling, Zoom doesn't resemble the X-Men movies or The Incredibles as much as Sky High, a modest hit for Disney last year. That the earlier film managed to invest the kiddie-superhero premise with considerable vitality and charm makes its successor seem even more perfunctory.

Several effects sequences show some ingenuity, but the air of staleness is deadening, and most cast members -- especially Rip Torn, reprising his own grouch routine from the Men in Black films -- look like they're waiting to cash their paycheques. At least Zoom requires Allen to work hard for his money: In the final battle scene, he wears a skin-tight suit and bug-headed helmet that make him look like a middle-aged member of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. That's something no one needed to see.

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