STARRING: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L.
Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Paz Vega, Jamie King,
Dan Lauria, Stana Katic, Johnny Simmons, Louis Lombardi
2008, 108 Minutes, Directed by:
adaptation of the Will Eisner comic book series that launched over 60 years ago,
The Spirit has been groomed for big screen dominance by writer/director
Frank Miller, himself a legend in the field of graphic novels as well as the
co-director of the influential hit Sin City.
coked-out-of-its-mind spit-take on Eisner and the modern world of superhero
cinema, The Spirit is wet bag of hot breath slowly released through a
monochromatic lens, spending much of its running time reminding the viewer that
not every hero needs his own film and perhaps Miller should never be allowed to
direct on his own again.
In the dreary, crime-riddled
world of Central City lies a protector, The Spirit (Gabrielle Macht). A masked
man clad in a black trench coat, red tie, and sneakers, The Spirit surveys the
city looking for criminals, haunted by the memory of his true love Sand Saref
(Eva Mendes) while waiting for his chance to remove criminal kingpin The Octopus
(Samuel L. Jackson) from power. When Saref shows up in town on the prowl for a
treasured mythological prize, The Spirit tracks her troublemaking, much to the
chagrin of Commissioner Dolan (Dan Laurie) and his daughter Ellen (Sarah
Paulson). With The Octopus and partner Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson)
desperate to find a doorway to immortality, The Spirit is sidetracked by Saref
and her mysterious ways, leading the hero right into The Octopus's line of fire.
Using the CG-drenched noir
technology that defined Sin City, 300, and
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The
Spirit plays to Miller's strengths as a brooding, jazzy detective story
architect, marked by a hostile mood of blackness only punctuated by colored
focal points, mimicking the consistency of a comic book panel. It's a familiar
looking movie in all manner of digital trimmings and two-dimensional gravity,
building a Central City peppered with treacherous rooftops and wintry fringes.
The cinematography by Bill Pope is clean and inventive when called upon,
following Miller's lead to plaster some striking images of heroism and
tongue-biting lust up on the screen. Spirit is more fluid than Sin
City and more visually liberated than 300, taking Eisner's world of
dames and the damned to fluttery flights of fancy that makes terrific use of the
threadbare production value allotted to Miller.
"An incredibly bizarre amalgamation of broad comedy, fist-first
action, and quasi sci-fi . . ."
Story-wise, The Spirit
is an incredibly bizarre amalgamation of broad comedy, fist-first action, and
quasi sci-fi that bites off more than it can chew. Essentially vomiting his id
across the pages of the screenplay, Miller imagines Eisner's world as a holding
pen for flamboyant villains and tarted-up women, vying for The Spirit's
attention in the most direct manner imaginable.
Sure, there's something of an
overcooked plot concerning The Octopus questing to drink magical blood and The
Spirit sorting out his past with Saref, but the narrative rides in the back seat
when Miller drives. He's more interested in voluminous derrieres (Saref leaves
behind a photocopy of her bottom as a crime scene calling card), heaving bosoms,
and sensual attire, brilliantly casting the likes of Mendes, Johansson, Paulson,
and Paz Vega (as the belly-dancing assassin Plaster of Paris, no I'm not
kidding) as the objects of The Spirit's desire. Miller adores the softer,
rounder highlights of femininity, and the brazen sexuality of the film makes for
a great distraction when the nonsense starts to stampede in.
For reasons that aren't
immediately clear, Miller pitches The Spirit to the rafters, perhaps
hunting for a way to hit a distinct comic book tone, or maybe it just reveals
his tone-deaf directorial sensibility. I'm not sure. Either way, the film is a
vicious mess, showcasing Miller pushing his actors in the wrong direction with
their ludicrous performances and taking in some bewildering comedic off-roading
that sours the picture's modicum of innocent fun immediately. It's one thing to
endure Samuel L. Jackson's moronic, eye-bulging interpretation of the
egg-hating, pimp-emulating Octopus. It's another thing to have Miller swathe
Octopus and Floss in flamboyant Nazi regalia when the villains are bestowed the
opportunity to reveal their evil plans. The movie has several of these mildly
tasteless asides that really confuse the spirit of The Spirit.
While the feature tickles from
a frigid technical perspective, it's a debacle everywhere else, multiplying its
ills anytime Miller feels the need to accentuate the whimsy. Going from raised
eyebrows to flat-out cringes faster than the speed of sound, The Spirit is a
maddening motion picture that doesn't connect on any heroic, sexual, or fanciful
level to which it aspires.
- Brian Orndorf