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MOVIE REVIEW

'Zoom' fails even its target audience

Made up of leftover parts of ``The Incredibles," ``Sky High," and ``X-Men," ``Zoom" is pure Saturday matinee kiddie fodder and this close to going straight to DVD. Seven-year-olds will find it passable entertainment, while their parents will pick their cuticles and wonder what the hell happened to Chevy Chase.

The story line -- pardon me while I snap together the pre-cut pieces -- concerns Jack Richards (Tim Allen), a one-time superhero named Zoom whose team was long ago betrayed by their government keepers in Area 52. In the process, Jack's brother, Connor, a.k.a. Concussion (Kevin Zegers), switched to the dark side; 30 years later he's coming back for revenge, and General Larraby (Rip Torn, apparently wearing a lemming on his head) and his scientists scramble to find a new team of superheroes for the reluctant Zoom to train.

The new kids, carefully chosen to appeal to every under-18 demographic in the audience, include 6-year-old Cindy (Ryan Newman), a li'l princess with super-strength and a bratty streak; husky lad Tucker (Spencer Breslin), whose body parts can inflate to gigantic proportions; telekinetic teen misfit Summer (Kate Mara, Heath Ledger's daughter in ``Brokeback Mountain"); and brooding rebel hunk Dylan (Michael Cassidy), who can turn invisible and may wish he could after this.

Jack/Zoom, by contrast, is a belching slob who hasn't forgiven the government for messing with his family life. Even the presence of a comely project psychologist named Marsha (Courteney Cox), a former adolescent geek who worshipped Zoom in the old days, can't turn him around. Can the kids? What do you think?

Oh yes, Chevy Chase. The onetime star of ``Saturday Night Live," ``Caddyshack," and ``Fletch," now 62 and looking like Jabba the Hutt's distant cousin, has been handed the second-banana role of the team's pet scientist, Dr. Grant. He's a distressing sight to behold, not because he has aged but because the grimaces and smug non sequiturs that seemed hip in 1973 play like the early stages of Tourette's three decades on.

Shabbily filmed and resolutely unfunny, ``Zoom" reflexively falls back on poop gags when the inspiration flags, which is most of the time. The sight of little Newman wearing a different dress-up outfit in each scene constitutes the one decent joke (I admit it; I laughed at the bunny costume ).

The stars flail in vain, though, and the filmmakers assume that since their primary audience is kids the movie doesn't have to make sense. Maybe that's true, but it's still a disservice that points up what lazy connect-the-dots ``entertainment" this is. Exclaims Allen at one point, ``I'm being asked to betray kids for money," and, by God, he's right.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

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