The cheap thrills of summer begin with the noisy, hyperactive and superficially entertaining third installment of IRON MAN 3—which pits Robert Downey Junior’s brash industrialist Tony Stark as the man in the can against a maniac called “The Mandarin.”  The third time’s not the charm– but in the words of one of my colleagues– it could have been worse.

IRON MAN 3 finds Tony Stark basking in his own wonderfulness– and that’s what we love about the guy. He’s tinkering with some new toys and he’s been “re-branded” THE IRON PATRIOT– with all attendant wisecracks. But soon,  threads from his past –a former one night stand played by Rebecca Hall and a wacko with a crackerjack idea named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce who co-wrote the screenplay) — begin to unravel his future.

Tony and the ever perky Pepper Potts ( the most beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow) are just about to sit down to a glass of chardonnay in Tony’s sprawling airport-size living room– when things go kaflooey.  Suddenly, Tony finds himself at the mercy of the aforementioned Mandarin. Sir Ben Kingsley plays the multi-layered villain, and chews much scenery before he –but after we– have had our fill.

Tony then sets out to save the world– and stumbles upon a kid who is as big a cynic/techno nerd as he is.  When the fatherless boy attempts to guilt Tony into not leaving him by asking him “Are you going to leave me?”– Tony says “Yes.” It’s hilarious and one of the reasons the sequel keeps us interested–that, and assorted quips about everything from THE AVENGERS to DOWNTON ABBEY. It’s all designed to quash the sentiment and up the coolness quotient.

The star studded cast and a frenzied storyline substitute motion for emotion as we barely connect the plot dots: a young boy, several villains, two girlfriends, the President of the US, Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and  insanely over the top action sequences. In Tony’s words–it’s a “piping hot mess”—that leaves you cold– even as it fires you up.

I wish I had cared more–In IRON MAN 3 the snark out weighs the spark. When action meets heart the results are truly explosive; I’m still waiting for that this summer, but in the meantime, Iron Man 3 will have to suffice.