Gotham City, a crime-ridden, debris-strewn, sunless, architecturally incoherent metropolis, is desperately in need of a savior, for the city is in the corrupting grip of crime boss Carl Grissom (Palance). Ace photographer Vicki Vale (Basinger) has been intrigued by the sightings of a

mysterious, giant vigilante bat. She meets enigmatic millionaire Bruce Wayne (Keaton), not suspecting that he's Batman. Wayne is quite taken with the lovely Vicki but is distracted by the wicked ways of Grissom's top henchman, Jack Napier (Nicholson), alias the Joker.

Perhaps it was inevitable, considering all the hype preceding and surrounding its release, that BATMAN would fall a bit flat once it finally reached the screen. Despite its interesting, grim tone and undeniably striking visuals from director Burton and production designer Furst, the film fails to

synthesize its strengths into a compelling whole. Its obvious intention to parallel the Joker and Batman as two psychotics, one promoting good and the other evil, doesn't come through with as much impact as it should. The Joker seems maniacal, all right, but hardly as sinister as the silent

Batman. In terms of acting, too, Nicholson's campy, full-blown rendering of the Joker (his best moment occurs as he pulls a ridiculously long pistol out of his pants) overshadows the miscast Keaton, whose attempt to be moody and macho gives him all the appeal of plywood.

BATMAN is dark, stylish, and full of "postmodern" touches--but wants to be more so. Given all its potential, it's a shame BATMAN wasn't more. It was, however, easily the biggest box-office hit of 1989, and one of the highest grossing films in history, a testament more to its massive marketing

campaign than to its quality.