As far as comic-book characters go, the troubled inhabitants of Ghost World may not seem as difficult to adapt for the big screen as, say, the superpowered X-Men. After all, there are no garish spandex suits to replicate -- or lantern-jawed do-gooders needed to fill them -- in Daniel Clowes' 1998 graphic novel. But Clowes and his cowriter and director Terry Zwigoff (''Crumb'') face a far trickier task, one that can't be solved by special effects or elaborate set pieces: They have to re-create Clowes' trio of endearingly cranky social misfits without reducing them to a bizarre loathe triangle.
Stuck somewhere between city lights and suburban blight, teen idles Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are wasting away in a postgraduation purgatory: Though they desperately want to escape the creepy denizens of their hometown -- a never-named dullsville full of faux-'50s diners and reggae-loving frat boys-to-be -- leaving would mean they'd have to give up the security of their own superiority, as well as risk the realization that their own friendship may be based on nothing more than a shared social disdain.
Enter Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a record-collecting, girdle-wearing misanthrope in whom Enid senses a common soul; their brutally honest camaraderie eventually forces her to reexamine her own navel-gazing (how's that for introspection!). Though Zwigoff stretches the aimless conclusion a bit too long, ''Ghost World'' -- like its protagonists -- successfully discovers bemusement and amusement in its own undesirable surroundings.
WHAT WE SAID THEN: ''…a disarmingly humane comedy…for anyone who ever felt imprisoned by life but crazy about it anyway.'' (#606, July 27, 2001) A– -- Owen Gleiberman