Thursday, January 8, 2009

Movie Review: The Spirit

It's Miller time.

The Spirit, written and directed by Frank Miller. Starring Jaime King, Gabriel Macht, and Dan Gerrity. Lionsgate (2008). Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AIII--Adults.

Read other reviews here.

Razzie Awards Promotional Video

Before we begin, I'll just apologize for the MegaTokyo-like posting schedule we've had lately. I was on vacation, and then bad weather lengthened my commute home to three hours, and then I had to work on other projects. But I most certainly did not fail to post regularly because I was, say, reading MegaTokyo. (Man, that comic is deee-pressing. There should be a legal limit on the number of angsty unrequited love stories you can put in one place.* Or something.)

Now to get on with it: It's time to ruin my cred again. I don't care what everyone else is saying. I don't care if I'm out of step with 85% of the critics. I don't even care that, as a rule, I dislike Frank Miller's stuff. This movie is freakin' awesome. Don't get me wrong--it's not good. It's better than good. It's so bad it's good. It's so bad it's freakin' awesome. I laughed through the whole movie and continued laughing for a few hours afterward; in fact, I'm laughing at this movie right now. This is a dark film that can really brighten your day. It's not a date movie--it's better than that. It's a breakup movie. Take your girlfriend to see this if you want her to break up with you. It worked for me: Lucky and I are once again officially "ambiguous."

Based (probably very loosely) on the classic comic by Will Eisner, The Spirit is about police officer Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht), who dies one day and comes back as the trenchcoat-clad, domino-mask-wearing, wyer-fu-flying Spirit, who heals quickly from wounds and becomes Central City's official superhero protector, spending most of the time talking about how his city is like his wife or something. But when he isn't monologuing, he sometimes beats up bad guys.

As the second horniest animated corpse in theaters this season, the Spirit is irresistible to every woman he meets, and since most women he meets look like Eva Mendes or Scarlet Johansson, he's understandably obliging to their advances.

When he's not monologuing, beating up unimportant bad guys, or ogling Central City's numerous femme fatales (all women in this universe are femme fatales), he indulges his hobby of engaging in endless fistfights with his archenemy, the Octopus. In the comic, the Octopus was an invisible figure represented by a distinctive pair of gloves, but in this film, he's played by a scenery-chomping Samuel L. Jackson who yells all his lines and likes to play dress-up. In his corny dialogue, the Octopus reveals that he has the same sort of weird relationship with eggs that the Spirit has with the city. Don't ask me why.

Critics are calling the plot convoluted, but it's not really. It's just stupid. Turn your brain off and don't think about it and you'll understand it just fine. It goes like this (as explained by the Octopus during his interminable Gloating Scene after having captured the hero): Denny Colt is a cop. He dies. He comes back as an immortal thanks to a weird experiment conducted by the Octopus. The Octopus makes himself immortal too. Now, to become not just immortal, but really, really, totally immortal (the details are vague here), the Octopus wants to get his hands on the Blood of Heracles, which kills most people but will make him super-duper immortal thanks to that aforementioned experiment. He hires a nefarious antiquities collector to get him the blood. It happens that the antiquities collector is also seeking Jason's Golden Fleece for an avaricious gold-digger named Sand Saref (played by the fetching Seychelle Gabrielle in flashback and by the vampier Eva Mendes in the present), who also happens to be the Spirit's teen heartthrob. For some inexplicable reason, Sand Saref and the Octopus can't pick up their respective packages and go their separate ways; instead, they have to have a shoot-out and get their packages mixed up. That makes Sand Saref angry enough that she has to convince the evil antiquities collector to commit suicide, and then she has to Xerox her posterior and leave it at the crime scene, probably because she's an idiot. When the Spirit comes upon the photocopied backside, he recognizes it immediately and, convinced Sand Saref is involved in wrongdoing, gets all conflicted and stuff.

After that, Sand Saref and the Octopus have to arrange for an exchange of packages. Meanwhile, the Spirit hits on his doctor, Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), argues with Ellen's police commissioner father (Dan Lauria), and gets stabbed by knife-wielding belly-dancer Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega), who Miller apparently throws into the movie just because he can. Eventually, he film climaxes with gunshots, a plethora of cheesy lines, some explosions, and a make out scene. Oh, and by the way, even the Angel of Death (Jaime King) is just another beautiful dame who wants to get her hands on the Spirit. She shows up several times for no reason.

Oh, where do we start? First on the list of so-bad-they're-good things in this movie are the so-bad-they're-good lines, lines like "I'm gonna kill you all kinds of dead," or "I'm the Octopus--I've got eight of everything." Or the exchanges such as, "I'm the only one who knows his body," "Lots of women know his body from what I hear."

But none of those are my favorites. My favorite bit comes from one of the Spirit's corny voiceover monologues: "They say you see your life pass before your eyes when you die, but all I see are women." Amen to that. But let's not forget the scene where he tells the children to brush their teeth and thanks all women everywhere for being "such beautiful creatures." Amen to that, too.

Then again, maybe my favorite is the nearly unintelligible line of Octopus's that they foolishly use in the trailer, "I'm gettin' El Spirit-o dead while I still can." Where the hell did that come from?

Second on the list of so-bad-they're-good things are the Octopus's sidekicks; besides his personal femme fatale, Silken Floss (Scarlet Johansson), there's his army of chunky clones (played by Louis Lombardi), all of whom have names ending in os, such as Pathos, Logos, and Huevos Rancheros, and all of whom have their names printed on their shirts.

Then there's the Octopus himself. Samuel L. Jackson goes overboard, and Miller lets him. Or, more likely, Miller, not an artist known for restraint, encourages him. He utters the movie's dumbest lines, which is really saying something when you factor in the Spirit's monologues personifying the city as a woman (everything's about women to the Spirit).

Frank Miller has demonstrated more than once that he is a man who doesn't know when enough is enough. He is a man for whom over the top isn't high enough. (Go read Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again if you don't believe me.) In this movie, he can't seem to decide if he's paying homage to Eisner or making fun of him. There are scenes (especially Jackson's explanatory monologues) where he doesn't seem to know what he's doing, and consequently his actors don't either. The final product is a mess; even its visuals can't rescue it, since it presents nothing that we haven't seen in those other digitally-enhanced comic book movies.

But who cares? The movie is still freakin' hilarious. I don't care if it's intentionally or unintentionally funny; either way, it's funny. It may have been universally panned by critics, but I predict it has a future as a cult classic shown in dorm rooms everywhere. It's a movie for guys who like bad movies, and I do mean guys, because I suspect it won't appeal so much to you lady-types. (Consider this our Twilight.)

What else? Oh yeah, as mentioned, it's shot in the same visual style as 300 and Sin City. I haven't decided yet what I think of these cartoony all-3D movies that try to look super high-tech and retro simultaneously. I admit I like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, though it didn't exactly leave a deep impression. I absolutely detest 300 and its obnoxious posturing that it uses as a stand-in for masculinity, but my disgust for the film has nothing to do with the visual style. As for Sin City, I can't hardly bring myself to look at it; I have a volume of the comic around here somewhere, but I imagine I'll die before I manage to read the whole thing. I suppose The Spirit's visuals are all right, but I wish it could decide what era it's trying to caricature; it looks like an old-timey film noir, but the characters have laptops and cell phones, which rather kill the mood.

Normally, I don't enjoy movies about philandering heroes (you will never get me to see another James Bond film unless its the one where his bastard children and the women whose hearts he's broken gang up on him and tear him limb from limb), but I'm all right with this one, mainly because, unlike Bond's girls, the women in this movie aren't pushovers who line up and wait their turns. In particular, Ellen Dolan, who appears to be the main love interest except she has nothing to do with the story, is constantly irritated with the Spirit's womanizing ways. The net result of all the Spirit's entanglements is that, by chasing all women, he's forfeited a real relationship with any one of them. The film certainly has fun with the Spirit's womanizing ways, but the final impression, at least that I get, is good: It's rather as if someone made Don Giovanni (the lighter interpretation of the opera) into a superhero.

Think of this as a high-budget B-movie. And proof that it only takes senseless violence and beautiful women to keep a man-child like me entertained.

Finally, if I haven't already made it clear you should see this movie, I will say this: this is probably your only chance to Samuel L. Jackson and Gabriel Macht mud-wrestle while hitting each other with bathroom appliances. Where did they get all those bathroom appliances???

Content Advisory: Contains coarse language, stylized action violence, brief nudity, sexual innuendo

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Spirit:

Myth Level: Has anyone figured out what this rating means yet? I haven't.

Quality: Medium (Looks good. Needs different director and script overhaul. But that doesn't mean it's no fun.)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-Low (blatantly racy)

*Yeah, you got me; I'm only sayin' that cuz I'm envious. That's some serious unrequited love angst right there.
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