Stars: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnell. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Rated PG-13 for violence.

Despite all of its gaudy excesses, "Batman Forever" is every bit as entertaining as its two predecessors. Key players from "Batman" and "Batman Returns" absent from this new film include director Tom Burton, composer Danny Elfman, and Michael Keaton, the previous wearer of the Batsuit. Of the three, the most sorely missed is Elfman whose intense film scores contribute energy and mood to any production. New Batman Val Kilmer and director Joel Schumacher ("Falling Down") nicely replace the two ingredients which by all rights should have been essential to any successful "Batman" installment.

In the film, Batman faces two new villains who each want revenge against either him or his alter ego, Bruce Wayne. Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones) blames Batman for the accident that disfigured half of his face. Edward Nigma (Jim Carrey) carries a grudge against the owner/operator of Wayne Enterprises, who refused to fund his brainwave-manipulating machine. Edward uses the machine to boost his own intelligence and becomes the evil genius known as the Riddler. These two baddies link up to pool their talents.

Not only does Batman have his hands full with two arch- villains, he also makes time to spend with beautiful psychiatrist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman). Chase can't seem to decide who she is more fond of, Bruce or the Bat, and verbally spars with each of them in a seductive manner. Bruce also takes in a ward of the state whose parents were recently killed by Two Face. The ward goes by the name of Richard Grayson and eventually becomes the second half of the Dynamic Duo as Robin.

Let's start with what I didn't like about "Batman Forever" before getting to the good stuff. First of all, in contrast to each of the other Batman villains, very little is seen of how/why Harvey Dent becomes Two Face. Secondly, the Riddler's riddles aren't terribly difficult and don't have as much to do with the plot as might be expected. But beyond that I can't pick too many nits.

Each of the cast members does a great job in his/her role, with Jim Carrey being the standout that we all knew he would be. Whether twirling his Riddler cane, screwing up his face in contortions of glee or anguish, or just plain being obnoxious, Carrey is at the top of his comic form and is a big reason why the film is so enjoyable. Also, be on the look out for several in-jokes to both the comic books on which Batman is based and the campy TV series.

With its flashy neon color schemes and the redesign of everything from the Batsuit to the Batmobile, "Batman Forever" is miles apart from its darker, more gothic, predecessors. As much as I thought it would, this switch in tone does not work against the new film. It just spins the franchise off into a new direction, one which audiences should appreciate as much as the Tim Burton films. I, for one, am looking forward to the next installment in this series.

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