By Owen Gleiberman
Updated August 09, 2006 04:00 AM
Sam Neill, Jurassic Park III
Credit: Jurassic Park 3: ILM

In one of the only enticing sequences of Jurassic Park III, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), the square-souled paleontologist in the ”Indiana Jones” hat (as if!), attempts to lead his crew, one by one, through a thick white fog over a rickety bridge, only to discover that they’re all inside a giant birdcage. Halfway across the bridge, we meet one of the ”birds,” a cawing pteranodon with vast leathery wings and an anvil head that cocks and bites with auto-jut purpose. There are baby pteranodons, too — they’re not quite as intimidating, though they do want to be fed — and all of these creatures are fun and arresting to behold because, like the best dinosaurs from the previous ”Jurassic Park” films, they attack with a beak-snapping viciousness that seems purely hardwired. They have aggression but no awareness. They’re OBs (original beasties), the epic channelers of the earth’s primordial wrath. In a strange way, the other dinosaurs in ”Jurassic Park III,” the first of the ”Jurassic” films not to be directed by executive producer Steven Spielberg (the reins have been taken over by Joe Johnston, who made ”Jumanji” and ”Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”), seem a bit too much like comfy old friends.

Take, for instance, the big guys — the ground-shuddering T. rex and a new, even more gargantuan dino called the Spinosaurus, which thunders and gnashes exactly like a T. rex, except that this one has the elongated bumpy mouth of a crocodile as well as a rather mild-looking fin. By all rights, these two jaws giants should be terrifying, but for all their stalking horizontal menace, they have a way of lumbering a half-dozen convenient steps behind their prey; no one in the movie ever appears in serious danger of getting chomped. Then, of course, there are the raptors, who are so smart this time that they can actually talk to each other (though not in English, so I can’t comment on whether their dialogue is superior to that of the humans). We’re meant to be wowed by their lethal intelligence, but all I could think of was how routine their prancing quick-draw movements had become. You can call a raptor a genius, but minus Spielberg’s playfully sinister hide-and-seek choreography, he’s just a lizard with an attitude.

”Jurassic Park III” has no pretentions to be anything more than a goose-bumpy fantasy theme-park ride for kids, but it’s such a routine ride. Spielberg’s wizardry is gone, and his balletic light touch as well, and that gives too much of this 90-minute movie over to the duller-than-dull characters: Dr.Grant and his scolding speeches on the perils of tampering with nature, William H. Macy and Téa Leoni as a reconciling divorced couple who kidnap Grant in order to find their kid, who was somehow abandoned on Isla Sorna (yeah, right). It’s time, by now, to abandon ”Jurassic Park,” before its entertainment value becomes utterly extinct.