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Kids will go-go to see the Power Rangers

Five-year-old Allen Bankston was happy to talk about his heroes at a sneak preview of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, with a middle-aged film critic whose contact with the Rangers equals the response time between the eye and a channel-changing finger.

Allen patiently rolled his eyes and explained why nobody can sneak up behind the Power Rangers when they wear those cover-all helmets. "They just flip around and hyah! hyah!," he said, with his hands stiffened in attack position. He also explained that only Power Rangers have the right to beat up anybody they consider bad, which seemed like a good sign.

The kid had all the answers _ and was just about the median age of any non-adults in the noisy, restless audience. Allen, who attended with his uncle, aunt and cousins, had two questions he figured I could answer: When will the movie start, and why do they have all those commercials before it starts? I resorted to basic adult responses: "Soon" and "Just because."

"Soon" didn't come soon enough, but when it did, Allen and his peers were transfixed from the first scene. My initial impression was that a $50-million budget buys neater stunts for children not to try at home, from sky surfing to in-line skating flips.

The Rangers, you see, are six people who look too old to be in high school, but are. When they aren't fighting intergalactic villains, they like to relax by defying death in more ESPN2 sorts of ways, with a cool rock

'n' roll soundtrack behind them. The unknown actors portraying them are just as expressive when they have those helmets on, and nobody runs when a backflip will do just as well.

Director Bryan Spicer didn't waste time introducing their movie foe, an ugly dude named Ivan Ooze, played by Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark) with a W.C. Fields twang and a batch of culturally hip zingers. Adults should enjoy picking out references to everything from Nirvana and Alice Cooper to Apocalypse Now and The Wizard of Oz. Ivan Ooze also has a gang that splatters into jelly stains when the Rangers hit

'em just right.

Allen didn't have any problems following the storyline, which is conveniently broken into 30-minute swatches, like the TV show, and boils down to Ivan Ooze wanting to turn off the Rangers' power. Along the way, he strips them of their strengths, but a warrior babe (added for the dads) gives them new ones to tide them over.

Even a Rangers rookie could appreciate most of the special effects here, including a dynamic final confrontation between Ooze's giant metallic insects and the Rangers' new Zords _ that's weapons to the uninitiated _ in which a robot frog saves the day. And the recurring fight scenes had a campy quality that recalled the funniest flicks from Hong Kong. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie does provides its share of disbelieving chuckles.

Or rapt attention. Within a half-hour, Allen had positioned himself on the armrest we shared to get a better look at the screen, with a thumb jammed in his mouth. In minutes, he propped his arm on my shoulder for comfort, but I drew the line when he absently started twirling my hair to help his concentration.

When the lights came up, I turned to Allen and asked him for his review of the movie. He still hadn't taken his eyes off the screen, and he pulled that well-sucked thumb out of his mouth and firmly thrust it skyward.

Who can argue with that?


Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

Director: Bryan Spicer

Cast: Paul Freeman, Karan Ashley, Johnny Yong Bosch

Screenplay: Arne Olsen

Rating: PG; violence

Running time: 90 min.

Studio: Twentieth-Century Fox