If memory serves, the angry green Marvel Comics superhero who is the subject of Ang Lee's new movie used to be known as the Incredible Hulk. At some point, though, he shed that defining adjective, and the film, which opens today nationwide, is just called ''The Hulk.'' It might be described, in any case, as incredible, but only in a negative sense: 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.

This is especially unfortunate because ''The Hulk'' arguably brings to comic-book material an arsenal of directorial and screenwriting intelligence unequaled since Tim Burton and Sam Hamm began the Batman franchise back in 1989. Mr. Lee and his frequent collaborator, the screenwriter and producer James Schamus, have an impressive and eclectic track record (including ''Eat Drink Man Woman,'' ''The Ice Storm'' and of course ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon''). They deserve some credit (along with John Turman and Michael France, who worked with Mr. Schamus on the screenplay) for trying to push the musclebound superhero genre in new directions.

The problem is that they seem to be pushing it in about 10 different directions at once, and in the process they lose sight of the basic requirements of visual clarity, narrative momentum and emotional impact, without which this kind of thing quickly lapses into cultishness or mythomaniacal pretension. Like the raging Hulk himself, a computer-generated Gumby on steroids who comes into full daylight view only after what feels like a whole mini-series' worth of earnest exposition, the movie is bulky and inarticulate, leaving behind a trail of wreckage and incoherence.

The first episode in any superhero franchise is burdened, and sometimes hobbled, by the matter of origins. The audience needs to be told what operations of accident, fate and Promethean technological hubris caused a given mild-mannered misfit to acquire his monstrous and misunderstood gifts. In this case the more the Hulk's background story is explored, the more obscure it becomes.

I'm far from an expert in such matters, but I would have thought that a combination of nanomeds and gamma radiation would be sufficient to make a nerdy researcher burst out of his clothes, turn green and start smashing things. I have now learned that this will occur only if there is a pre-existing genetic anomaly compounded by a history of parental abuse and repressed memories. This would be a fascinating paper in The New England Journal of Medicine, but it makes a supremely irritating -- and borderline nonsensical -- premise for a movie.

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In disclosing its diagnosis, ''The Hulk'' begins with a flurry of oblique, overlapping scenes detailing the unhappy career of a scientist named David Banner, who was engaged in some kind of genetic research for the United States military in the 1960's, and who quickly went crazy and did something terrible. (Exactly what will be revealed, at least partially, in one of many subsequent flashbacks.)

Thirty years later David's son, Bruce (Eric Bana), having been reared by adoptive parents, has followed in his father's professional footsteps. Now a brilliant scientist in his own right, Bruce is haunted by nightmares and bedeviled by a smooth-talking corporate rival (Josh Lucas). Bruce's girlfriend, Betty (Jennifer Connelly), has broken up with him because he's too cut off from his own emotions.

As if this were not trouble enough, his crazy old dad shows up in the shaggy person of Nick Nolte, accompanied by three equally shaggy dogs, one of them a monstrous French poodle. The elder Banner either wants to reconcile with his son or to complete the experiment he began years earlier, before he was sacked by an irascible officer (Sam Elliott) who just happens to be Betty's father.

All of this takes a very long time to explain, usually in choked-up, half-whispered dialogue or by means of flashbacks inside flashbacks. Themes and emotions that should stand out in relief are muddied and cancel one another out, so that no central crisis or relationship emerges.

Mr. Lee tries desperately to compensate for the flat-footedness of the story with a chaotic array of editing and camera tricks. Among his favorites are close-ups of eyeballs, which serve as literal and metaphorical mirrors, and screens that split into multiple panels. These moments -- and there are more and more of them as the movie flails into its middle section -- are perhaps intended to evoke the pages of a comic book, but in nearly every case the effect is to dilute the action rather than intensify it. When there is nothing very interesting to look at, shooting it from a lot of angles at once is not very helpful.

''Crouching Tiger'' was embraced for its brilliant, high-flying effects, but the deeper magic was in its mood; it had a melancholy lyricism, an ability to be both playful and sorrowful, that is rare in action movies. The greatest failure of ''The Hulk'' is not the clumsy, ugly special effects. (As the Hulk hops through the desert, pursued by fighter jets, he seems more like clay animation than the computer-generated kind; you half expect to see Wallace and Gromit manning the cockpits.)

Nor is it the witless writing or the hectic, inconsistent acting. These lapses would be forgivable if the filmmakers had found the right tone of pop seriousness to bring the hero and his story into focus. They seem at once to be taking the material too seriously and condescending to it, and they are too busy marveling at their own technique to make us care about the sufferings of their hero.

Comic-book superheroes may be larger than life (quite a bit larger, in the Hulk's case), but they survive as mythical beings because we can identify with them. The Hulk's disfiguring fury is something we recognize, but its vehicle, in this case, is not. Mr. Bana is so mopey and indistinct that it is hard to remember him from one scene to the next. His lack of emotional presence is overcompensated by Ms. Connelly's weepiness, Mr. Elliott's brush-cut grouching and Mr. Nolte's maniacal fulminations. Near the end, in a fit of paternal mad-scientist fury, he chews through the rubber insulation on a thick electrical cable. By that point you may be tempted to do the same thing.

''The Hulk'' is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). A lot of property is destroyed, a few people (and those shaggy dogs) are blown up or smacked around, and the hero's feelings are frequently hurt.


Directed by Ang Lee; written by John Turman, Michael France and James Schamus, based on a story by Mr. Schamus and the Marvel comic book caracter created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Avi Arad, Mr. Schamus and Larry Franco; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 137 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Eric Bana (Bruce Banner), Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross), Sam Elliott (Ross), Josh Lucas (Talbot) and Nick Nolte (Father).

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