Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


THE SPIRIT (2008). Written and directed by Frank Miller.

The Spirit was basically a parody of a comic book hero written and drawn by comics great Will Eisner back in the forties. Denny Colt, a cop, is shot and believed killed, but he continues to work for the law from his HQ in Wildwood cemetery. The Spirit appeared in both comic books and in the newspapers, and while Eisner's work was often cinematic and clever, I've always thought The Spirit was somewhat over-rated. Since this new feature film based on the character comes off a bit like a parody, one would have to say it's in "the spirit" of the strip, but what works (or doesn't) in a comic strip may seem disastrously overblown and stupid up on the big screen in a big budget motion picture. The only thing that really works in this movie is the star, Gabriel Macht, who hits just the right note in the title role [no easy feat in this movie]. Everything else ... ?

Even the makers of the old cliffhanger serials were smart enough to know that there had to be something at stake, some grand danger to the world or the city (or at least the hero) to keep the audience's attention and keep them in suspense. All we're told in The Spirit is that his old enemy the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) is up to something, but there's no sense of immediate danger or even of impending doom. Besides, who can take The Octopus seriously? As played by dead-common Jackson, the character radiates zero menace, command, or even believability. Dr. Doom in the Fantastic Four movies has undeniable presence; Jackson/Octopus is merely a lousy joke. The villainesses in the movie (always sultry, hot babes in the strip) do their best, but while Eva Mendes may have a great body she's borderline homely, and Scarlett Johansson's appeal is muted in this as well. Miller's script is full of cliches.
But what difference does it make? One can't point to a single memorable sequence in the movie. It's all striking scenic design and cinematography, but none of the visual gloss -- and it is very glossy -- can defeat the essential emptiness and dullness at its core. Macht deserves a better vehicle.

Verdict: Don't expect a franchise. **.

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