and John Sanford

Hellboy is such a severe name for so laid-back a superhero. Not that the 6-foot-5, half-human/half-demon red bruiser with a stone hand the size of a Buick is reluctant to do his duty. When Hellboy is fighting a nemesis, for example, he doesn’t want any help—it’s “the whole lonely-hero thing,” an associate sighs—and he doesn’t hesitate to use his Right Hand of Doom to crush skulls when necessary.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t obsess over his love life. Or worry that, after a particularly arduous battle, he might be sore the next morning. Even when Hellboy gets sent flying through walls and out the window of some creepy mansion by a tentacled, gargoyle-looking monster, his response is one not of vengeance but of workaday resignation: “Aw, crap.”

Hellboy, in another words, is the Hulk crossed with George Costanza.

The movie itself, though, based on the comic by Mike Mignola, is a bit more dark and disturbed than ol’ Cantstandya. Hellboy walks you through the origins of its title character in a rain-soaked introduction that’s typically portentous and unclear: It’s 1944, and “madman” Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) is trying to unleash the seven gods of chaos. With a chant that sounds something like “Ayeh-ohem-urm-arrr!” a portal is opened, a blast of silver illuminates the night sky, and along with the forces of evil comes a tiny red boy with a taste for Baby Ruths.

The horned child is rescued from the dark side by Professor Broom, who names him Hellboy and raises him as his own. Sixty years later, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is reintroduced living in a cozy studio at Broom’s Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, blessed with a slowly aging body but cursed with the soul of the cranky AARPer he truly is. His existence is the stuff of yeti-esque legend, and in a scene in which Broom (John Hurt) invites young FBI Agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) to help his son fight the resurfaced Rasputin, Hellboy’s coolness is decisively established: Myers, at the sight of the weight-lifting, cigar-smoking beast, drops all professional pretense and whispers his name with the perfectly wide-eyed, gape-mouthed expression of a fanboy.

It’s not obvious what Rasputin, who apparently can’t be killed, is really up to, but his bag of tricks include a Nazi who sports a face-covering “anti-life mask” and blades for hands. More dangerous, though, is the octopuslike and very angry Sammael (Brian Steele), a giant “demon of resurrection” who lays eggs like a mosquito and is Rasputin’s main tool for trying to force Hellboy back to his evil origins. The narrative is predominantly taken from Mignola’s first Hellboy book, Seed of Destruction, and though director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro may not flesh out the movie’s central conflict too well, the concept of Hellboy vs. All the Bad Guys is presented obviously enough for even nonfans to get the gist.

The action sequences, which alternately show Hellboy kicking ass and being knocked on his own, aren’t particularly breathtaking, but just like the everyday details of X-Men’s thoroughly charming mutant world, the rest of Hellboy’s life more than makes up for any boredom you’ll feel during the fighting. His biggest weakness, besides stogies and nachos, is the lovely Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a fire-starter who’s locked herself in a mental institution after one too many “episodes.” Hellboy’s pining after this fellow freak is touching but more often flat-out funny, particularly in a scene in which he tortures himself by watching her with Myers after she agrees to leave the hospital. Perched on a rooftop as the two go out to get coffee, Hellboy tells a kid who spots him that “he’s on a mission” and then gives an exasperated play-by-play: “She’s laughing. She’s sitting on a park bench, and she’s laughing!”

In addition to accurately capturing the comic’s playful sense of humor, del Toro faithfully re-creates its palette, frequently choosing slate-blue settings that highlight Hellboy’s brick-red complexion. The duskiness is punctuated only sparingly by CGI flash—predominantly in the swift-moving, impressively rendered Sammael fry and the blue lightning that engulfs Liz when she goes pyro.

Perlman, perhaps best known as the ugly half of TV’s Beauty and the Beast, giving a winningly casual performance that allows Hellboy’s humanity to become much more obvious than his sawed-off horns and square jaw. But the guy’s always been about more than just looks and quips. Like most comics, Hellboy comes with the expected messages about staying true to yourself and overcoming odds, but it also contains a lesson that even a Seinfeldian can appreciate: “All us freaks have is each other.”

Home on the Range, the latest animated feature from Disney, also stars a wisecracking, larger-than-life character: a well-teated, well-fed show cow named Maggie. Maggie, voiced irritatingly yet appropriately by Roseanne Barr, is a new addition to the Patch of Heaven dairy farm, an idyllic place populated by Disney-adorable little piggies and chickies, a cranky old goat, and the resident queen cow, the very proper Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench).

Caloway doesn’t take too kindly to Maggie’s bombastic arrival (accompanied, naturally, by a “Back in Black”–ish theme song), but she’s soon presented with a greater concern: Unless the farm’s proprietor can come up with $750 in a few days, Patch of Heaven will be put up for auction. Naturally, she and the newcomer band together for the greater good, setting out with New Age–y pacifist cow Grace (Jennifer Tilly) to try to raise some money.

Home on the Range is a fun, fast-moving 76 minutes that, except for its catchy, genre-crossing soundtrack, feels more like a Looney Tune than part of the Disney oeuvre. In addition to having a flat look that’s miles away from Finding Nemo lusciousness, Home on the Range occasionally pays outright tribute to several Warner Bros. staples, from the Bugs Bunny–looking rabbit that pops out of a hole to the baddie named Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid), a cowboy with Yosemite Sam facial hair and a fondness for shouting, “Dagnabbit!”

Kids certainly won’t be bothered by the movie’s derivative moments, though. And even if Maggie’s sarcasm goes over their heads (when one of her many jokes falls flat, she says, “Is this thing on?”), there are enough softballs lobbed by Tilly’s vulture-attracting, ever-warbling Grace and a spastic, bicep-kissing horse named Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.) to keep them laughing.

Like the best of Disney cartoons, Home on the Range offers jokes for the grown-ups, too: Steve Buscemi lends his voice as a yellow-toothed, pencil-’stached accountant who’s funny if only because of Buscemi’s own grubbiness, and Alameda Slim, a C&W singer, has an ability to lull cows into submission that seems like a dirty little reference to groupies.

Surprisingly, that’s only one example of the sexual innuendo rampant throughout the movie, from Maggie’s assertion that her goods “are real” to the attention that the female cows get on the road (“Sure, we could help you…maybe we could help each other!”). Makes you wonder, actually, what the filmmakers had in mind when naming the farm Patch of Heaven. With any luck, though, the wee ones will be too taken with movie’s animated birds and bees to be puzzled by their metaphorical ones. CP