Somewhere, Nic Cage is proud of Tom Hardy's performance in this somewhat deranged misfire

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Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams don't so much star in "Venom" as they're held hostage by it.

They're two of our finest actors, with five Oscar nominations between them, and they're stuck here in a second-tier superhero vehicle that doesn't know if it's a villain origin story, a body horror buddy comedy or an unruly effects romp. 

It's a bit of all three, actually. And it's a throwback, intentionally or not, to the days when we didn't take our superhero movies as high art.

"Venom" is quite silly, and benefits from lowered, or at least shifted, expectations. If it's not instantly considered camp — it's not "Catwoman" bad — it could be with time, and Hardy's tick-heavy performance ushers it straight down that path. (In the realm of good actors acting bad, he's on par with Nic Cage in "Ghost Rider.")  

Hardy plays Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist who's looking into the Life Foundation, a bio-medical firm headed by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a billionaire with a shifty code of ethics. 

Life's up to some bad stuff involving splicing alien DNA into humans. While investigating the story, Eddie comes into contact with a strand of black goo that infects his body and turns him into Venom, a 7-foot tall slime-covered monster with a nasty tongue and about 180 teeth.  

Except he's not always Venom, Venom is inside him, and he bickers back and forth with his alter ego, who possesses the ghoulish voice of a haunted house emcee. It's an awkward high-wire act that works better the less seriously it's taken. 

Williams plays Eddie's girlfriend, Anne, and she doesn't have a whole lot to do except stand by as Hardy dives all the way in to his crazed performance. (A scene at a restaurant where Eddie freaks out and cools off in a tank full of lobsters while Anne quite literally looks on stands out.) 

Directed by "Zombieland's" Ruben Fleischer, "Venom" feels like it's been sent through a shredder; the climax arrives suddenly, and the resolution plays like a tacked-on sitcom ending.

The inevitable sequel will hopefully have a better grip on what it's trying to be. But "Venom" feels like it's figuring things out as it goes along and landing in muck every step of the way.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Venom'

GRADE: C

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language

Running time: 112 minutes

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