Watching The Spirit get tangled up in his black and red suit wasn't only as confusing as Samuel L. Jackson's eyeliner, it was disturbing. A full review (with spoilers) explains why.
If Sin City was located in the scariest darkest portion of New York, then The Spirit's home turf is Connecticut. The monochrome style of Miller's movie makes you feel like you're watching another Sin City chapter, but this time on the good side of the tracks.
An all black-and-red palate doesn't bother me. In fact, I was amazed by Sin City's ability to burn images into my brain. I will forever remember Becky's glowing cross and earring set. Alas, the super-dark world of The Spirit never really pans out wide enough for something in CG motion to have that sort of delicate touch. Mind you this isn't a knock at the violence, as The Spirit never actually tries to be a violent film, but it looks so much like Sin City, you can't help but feel you're trapped in some terrible suburb.
Does it look like hell all the time? Certainly not. But was it distracting? Absolutely. Like one of the Spirit's many cats, I was easily distracted like a toy string by our heroe's red CG tie, along with the zoomy lines that followed Samuel L. Jackson around. But a few splatters of super red blood did remind me of the ink-on-film look they were striving for.
The Spirit follows a crusading cop named Denny Colt, who swears to protect his greatest love of all, Central City. Colt dies, but then he rises to the grave as a superhero. Sadly, the movie's lead, Gabriel Macht, never sells me on the fact that he was a super-anything. While he looks quite lovely without his shirt (which luckily takes up a large part of the movie), the Spirit's legendary sexual swagger is always just out of Macht's reach. I blame this on two things: his too-innocent-looking face, and the god-awful dialog he has to deliver. It never works, not once. I was completely ready for a hot one liner to drip from Macht's mouth, but instead he just stands there trading boring quips, or even non-sequiturs, while women around him acted much more aroused or interested than he did, despite his lover-of-women rep. Case in point:
I wanted to root for Central City's Spirit, but the only times I found a connection with this new actor was when he was paired up with the police commissioner Dolan. The hard nosed cop, who seems to be Spirit's only confidant, is played by the incomparable Dan Lauria — or, as we all know him, the dad from Wonder Years. Lauria was an absolute pleasure to watch. He encompassed the noir style that Miller was so desperately trying to force on screen, right down to his crinkled trench coat. This man is a gem, and needs to be in a detective movie/series, stat. He even works the silly one-liner fight dialogues into somewhat believable arguments between himself and his ally, the vigilante Spirit. But despite the moments of fun between those two, not all the guns (and there were plenty of them) in The Spirit could protect us from Samuel L. Jackson's interpretation of the villainous Octopus.
Our superhero patrols the land looking for eight-limbed trouble, and soon enough, he finds it. For the first 15 hours of this movie (well that's how it felt) Spirit launches into an all out battle of fists and toilets, while breaking up his evil nemesis' plans to drink the blood of Hercules (and become immortal). As I've said before, slapstick is an art, and combining slapstick and fighting apparently takes a lot more time than they were willing to spend. Instead, Jackson howls and shrieks at the camera, as if overcompensating for his lack of white gloves, and the Spirit punches the same spot over and over. It's tedious and feels like improv.
As the first actual realization of this never-before-seen bad guy, Jackson takes his character to a whole new level of crazy town, terrible eyeliner aside. His insane monologues reel out of control as he spews off putting lines like "deader than Star Trek" and obsesses about not having egg on his face, completely taking you out of the moment. Granted when coupled with his sidekick Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) the two seem to bring out the best in each other, and they nail the infamous Nazi torture scene. But the minute you separate this Miller-dubbed "Lucy and Ricky" team, it's all downhill for both of them. Jackson's madder than hell act starts to wear thin, waiting for the next actual funny moment.
When Scarjo and her cleavage work on their own, she joins the ranks of the other women in this film — as convenient plot points to move the story along. Characters like Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) the angel of death Lorelei Rox (Jaime King) and Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) are throw-away additions to the male team. They are merely there to prove that Spirit is sexy, because they all want in his pants. Also, Ellen is supposedly Spirit's ex-squeeze when he was Denny Colt, and you're telling me that not only does she have very limited pull over his actions but that she can't tell her dead boy-toy is standing right in front of her? (It's not that good of a mask.)
The film goes to great flashbacky lengths to establish Sand Saref's (Eva Mendes) character but the film loses me when she xeroxes her butt, allowing Spirit to use it as a mug shot around town. Oh, the little-person bellhop recognizes it, because he's short — get it? Get it???? While it's fun to see young Saref, like in the panels, and it made her diamond-thief-hunting MO slightly believable, the film cancels out all this work by limiting anything interesting the adult Saref gets to contribute, besides being a towel-dropping, butt-xeroxing gold-digger.
All in all, the ladies look lovely, and you can't deny the costumes are a lot of fun. But their characters are flat. And while watching Scarjo and Jackson prance about in SS Uniforms at the expense of some poor kitties is a really funny, demented scene, it in no way shape or form makes up for the rest of the film. The green-screen really takes its toll on the actors. You can clearly tell which sequences were shot separately, or together. The film is left feeling disjointed, and perhaps that's what's to blame for the missing connection with the audience.
The final question I was left with was: Who is going to go see this film? I can't imagine hardcore Will Eisner fans wanting to see a Sin City-esque adaptation of their beloved Spirit, and it's not mainstream enough to pull in a wide audience.
Bottom line: it's a hero no one really knows anything about, and not even Scarjo's lady lumps will be enough to pull in real numbers. So what is it? A giant ad for Bulgari jewels? The Spirit is so wrapped up in being a monochrome, funny-ha-ha, camp film, it forgot to include character development and plot that might bring in a wider audience. With a few more edits and people above Miller checking the direction and flow of this film, this could have been the new cult bad movie I've been looking for. But as it stands now, The Spirit is a parody of this mans appeal, and not in a good way. Frank Miller out-Frank-Millered himself.
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