''I never thought I, of all people, would be in a movie where they'd be like, 'Okay, roll to your left...there's a giant robot foot coming at you!''' laughs Gwyneth Paltrow. ''But I love the fact that I am.'' What tempted an Oscar winner like Paltrow -- not to mention ''Cold Mountain'''s Jude Law, himself the serious actor type -- to take a chance on a $70 million-plus hybrid of live action and digital animation that's steeped in retro sci-fi (ranging from ''Commander Cody'' serials to ''Flash Gordon'' comic strips to Max Fleischer ''Superman'' cartoons) and directed by a first-time filmmaker, no less? ''It just looked...amazing,'' says Paltrow, who was lured by a six-minute test video, crafted by writer-director Kerry Conran on his computer over the course of four years. Must have been a hell of a video: Paltrow wanted to commit before she even read the script. ''I said, 'You can't commit! You have to read the script!''' recalls producer Jon Avnet. ''I wanted her to know what she was getting into. She read it -- and she was still in.''
Law plays rakishly heroic Sky Captain, who teams with two ex-girlfriends -- a reporter (Paltrow) and an eye-patched adventurer (Angelina Jolie) -- to rescue the world's greatest scientists, kidnapped by a mystery villain bent on world domination. Paltrow took no up-front money for her work on the independently financed ''Tomorrow.'' ''This definitely seemed to me one of those risks worth taking,'' says the actress, who is expecting her first child this summer. Though she wouldn't mind seeing the movie do well enough so she could get a paycheck. ''After all,'' she jokes, ''I've got tuition to think about now.''
THE GOOD NEWS The presence of Paltrow and Law casts this nerd-pop extravaganza in an intriguing light: a popcorn flick salted with artsy ambition.
THE bad NEWS Bluescreen productions can be the enemy of drama and good acting (see: the ''Star Wars'' prequels). Also, may be waaaay too geeky for its own box office good.