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A not-so-Xcellent X-land adventure

Teen boys won't notice or care, but 'X-Men' sequel has little going for it

If the studios move up the releases of their big summer movies any earlier, we'll still be eating leftover turkey. The blockbuster season commences with the arrival of 'X2,' and speaking of turkey É

'X2' is the sequel to the summer of 2000's thoroughly unXceptional 'X-Men,' an adaptation of one of the essential titles in the Marvel Comics lineup. Though it promised fun, directed as it was by Bryan Singer of 'The Usual SuspeX,' er, 'Suspects,' it proved to be about as bland as a blockbuster can be.

Singer is back on 'X2,' and if annoying can be considered an improvement over bland, he has improved on the original. It is likely that the fan boys for whom the film has been made will find it more rewarding, if only because the scythe-fingered Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) gets in a good deal more slicing and dicing than he did before Ñ though all within the kid-friendly limits of a PG-13 rating.

'X2' is like the PG-13 rating itself, which was designed to make kids think they were seeing an almost-R-rated movie, promising more than it delivers. 'X2' simply promises 'X3.'

The current Xtravaganza is built around the threat posed by mad, mutant-hating Gen. William Stryker (Brian Cox), the man whose research produced Wolverine Ñ though we're still not sure who gave him that wacky haircut Ñ and who also has a personal grudge against Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), the telepath who founded the X-Men.

The threat to mutantkind is so dire that the X-Men's nemesis, the metal-manipulating Magneto (Ian McKellen), is sprung from his plastic prison to help battle Stryker. Also along for the ride is the demonic-looking Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), whose unique power is to speak German with a Scottish brogue and teleport himself in a veil of black smoke.

There's a lot of smoke being blown here. We want to know the Wolverine back story, but the film barely offers more than we found out the first time. Another of our heroes is killed in the climax, then the final shot hints at a transformation and return. Mostly, though, the movie seems to be concerned with seX. An awful Ñ and we mean awful Ñ lot of time is spent playing footsie over whether X-teens Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) can get jiggy without endangering themselves and others. And of course, there's Wolvie, who goes all Ginsu when aroused and smokes big phallic stogies when he's just hangin' in the kitchen swigging Dr Pepper (apparently the official drink of mutantdom).

The good news Ñ what little there is Ñ is that with the basic story taken care of, this one can get down to business and move right along (and it better, at 135 minutes). Also, sullen pretty-boy James Marsden is almost entirely absent as the laser-eyed Cyclops, the size of his role being well-suited to his barely there presence.

Otherwise, you'll have to make do with bits in which Stewart, Cox and McKellan appear in combination, though they'd have more to chew on reading the ingredients labels on food containers than this limp script. What this series needs is a mutant writer whose special power is skill or wit.