Picks and Pans Review: Superman Iii

updated 06/27/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/27/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Always most intriguing when he reveals a touch of flawed humanity, the Man of Steel had his best moments in Superman II when he finally cast off his superego and bedded down with Lois. In Superman III, he goes one step further, metamorphosing into a Scotch-guzzling, unshaven sleaze-ball. In one scene he breaks bottles in a dive by supersonically tossing beer nuts, then jets off to wreak havoc upon the world. The Superman-goes-psycho bit (he's driven temporarily insane by a chunk of doctored Kryptonite) is the centerpiece of this film, directed by Richard Lester and written by David and Leslie Newman, who also collaborated on Nos. 1 and 2. Richard Pryor is the delightful villain of the movie, a fired restaurant worker who discovers he has a talent for high tech. His services are commandeered by boss Robert Vaughn, a multinational bad guy who quotes Attila the Hun and won't rest till he's conquered the world. The plot juxtaposes the Pryor-Vaughn villainy and Clark Kent's blossoming romance with hometown girl Lana Lang, played with sexy vulnerability by Annette O'Toole. (Lois Lane, in the guise of Margot Kidder, appears only briefly. Kidder had talked herself out of the film in a dispute with the producers, but later compromised on a cameo.) Lester and Co. keep things moving with sight gags and shrewd satire of the 1980s computer culture. Christopher Reeve turns in a wonderfully playful performance as the schizo hero, grinning wickedly during his super stupor as he straightens up the Leaning Tower of Pisa and blows out the Olympic flame. The film loses most of its spark three-fourths of the way through, bogging down in an endless, metaphysical junkyard battle between Superman's good and evil sides, and finishing with the requisite scene of mass destruction. Still, if not as exhilarating as Superman II, Superman III is surprising and boisterously witty. (PG)

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