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'Hulk' Runs Amok On Silver Screen

The Hulk is pursued by the military through the streets of San Francisco
UNIVERSAL PICTURES
"The Hulk," Hollywood's latest comic book entry in the summer movie sweepstakes, opened in theaters nationwide on Friday.

Universal has high hopes for the film, but reviews of the movie have been less than ecstatic. Here's a sampling from the nation's newspapers:

USA Today: " ... nothing can distract us from the overriding reality that too much of Hulk is a sulk."

Washington Post: "Parents, be forewarned: If your kids are expecting a quick-paced summer action movie featuring a cool green superhero, they may likely walk out of theaters feeling like victims of the old bait-and-switch."

Los Angeles Times: "Petulant rather than angry, the movie Hulk manages all the fury of a brooding high school wrestler."

New York Times: " ... incredibly long, incredibly tedious, incredibly turgid. As for the grumpy green giant himself, I'm sorry to say that he is not very credible at all."

But, as every Hollywood mogul knows, bad reviews don't necessarily mean bad box office.

Boasting a muscular 6,000 screens in 3,661 theaters, the Marvel comic adaptation seems likely to gross at least $50 million over its opening weekend. But awareness of the angst-ridden action flick is through the roof, so an even stronger bow is possible if 11th-hour marketing can boost must-see sentiment.

Tracking surveys have shown less enthusiasm among women, with teen boys comprising the core. But an eye-popping 27 percent of respondents in one pre-release "Hulk" survey registered an "unaided awareness" of the movie, meaning they knew of the film but hadn't learned of it from a particular trailer or commercial.

"You normally wouldn't see a number that high until after a movie has opened," noted a studio executive.

The star of director Ang Lee's comic-book adaptation is an 800-pound computer-animated green monster. The cast includes Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte and Eric Bana as the scientist who morphs into an angry behemoth because of a lab accident.

Universal officials declined to speculate on weekend prospects, but a certain white-knuckle optimism is pervading the studio.

"We couldn't be prouder of this movie," Universal Vice Chairman Marc Shmuger said. "When you look at the other tent pole movies that have launched new franchises and how they have performed, we think we're right in the money with this movie to do as well or better."

Internet buzz on "Hulk" has largely hinged on the look of the computer-generated title character, drawing some heat for a perceived lack of photo-realism in pirated early version clips.

"Everybody at the studio is extremely excited about this project finally coming to the big screen, and we're certainly confident with the magnitude of the opening," Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco said. "We'll leave it up to the movie gods after that."