Picks and Pans Review: The Shadow

updated 07/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen

As penumbral superhero action films go, The Shadow beats the feathers off The Crow; it's faster, wittier and clearer of plot, and it takes its supernatural mumbo jumbo less seriously. This is a comic book brought neatly to life, and nobody is pretending it's anything more.

Like his crime-fighting prewar contemporaries Batman and Superman, the Shadow is a modern city dweller with alter egos. His civilian persona is Manhattan playboy Lamont Cranston.

Unlike most playboys, however, Cranston once took a life-changing trip to Tibet, where a mysterious monk taught him the secrets of telepathy and invisibility. The monk also taught Cranston how to "cloud men's minds," which might have led to a career in advertising had not Lamont become a semipro buttinsky, showing up at crime scenes as a disembodied, self-righteous voice that browbeats criminals.

The laconic Baldwin frequently gets to use his best move, gazing bale-fully into the middle distance. Writer David Koepp shows some principles (there are no "Oh, Expletive!" lines) and a modest sense of humor: When Baldwin meets his main foe, Lone, a diabolical Genghis Khan descendant who comes back to life, he says, "So, what are you doing in the Big Apple?"

Director Russell Mulcahy sadly underuses Miller, who is appealing despite another unworthy role: she has only to be sweet and innocuously vampy as mad scientist McKellen's daughter. Mulcahy simply wastes Jonathan Winters, who wrings a lot of laughs out of a handful of scenes as Baldwin's prating uncle, the police commissioner.

Mulcahy also wastes the Baldwin-Lone showdown, using it before the movie's climactic scene, during which a bomb is about to explode. The conclusion puts an unsatisfying end to an otherwise enjoyable experience. (PG-13)

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