August 10, 1987 12:00 PM

From its opening shot—a Soviet cosmonaut singing My Way in Russian as he works on an orbiting satellite—the first half of this film is sheer delight. Christopher Reeve, who might have been forgiven for just flying through the role by this time, still gives Superman a lively, engaging presence. Gene Hackman, back as the archvillain Lex Luthor, is still sly and jaunty. Mariel Hemingway, at her leggiest as the daughter of a sleaze-mongering publisher who buys the Daily Planet, provides some new competition for Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane. Everyone seems to be having fun. (Sam Wanamaker, as the publisher, at one point gives Reeve a quizzical look and asks, “Why isn’t there any air travel on your expense account?”) Then there’s a new threat in Nuclear Man, a Luthor creation who has most of Superman’s powers and none of his sense of restraint. The messagy aspects of the plot, centering on Supe’s decision to wipe out all nuclear weapons, are unobtrusive. But there is a problem with the movie’s second half: There isn’t any. Even at 91 minutes, the film seems truncated. One moment Superman is cowering in his apartment, the next he is zooming off triumphantly into the credits. It’s unlikely that producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus ran out of money. But they, director Sidney J. (Iron Eagle) Furie and writers Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, who co-wrote The Jewel of the Nile, certainly ran out of ideas. They’re like a football team that’s ahead 56-0 at the half and somehow loses the game. (PG)

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