Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Spirit: Movie Review

The Spirit: Movie Review

Rating 4/10
Cast: Samuel L Jackson, Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johannson, Kevin's Dad from the Wonder Years, Louis Lombardi
Director: Frank Miller
"Toilets are always funny"
Four words I would never have expected to start a review with - but as Samuel L Jackson utters them at one point early on, I feel obliged to mention them.
The Spirit is a different kettle of fish; based on the 1940s Will Eisner strip, it's another Frank Miller flick based on the graphic novel genre (after of course, the brilliant Sin City and the ab rippling 300)
In an homage to 40s and 50s film noir, The Spirit (Gabriel Macht resplendent in a dark suit and mask, but with a billowing red tie) patrols the streets of "his city", desperately trying to track the Empire of the evil crime kingpin, The Octopus (played with distinct OTT tendencies by Samuel L Jackson.)
As the film opens in a Saul Bass style with The Spirit powering over rooftops, he's tracking a heist after a tip off from a cop.
Once on the scene, he's thrown into conflict with the Octopus in a opening extended fight scene. The Octopus is trying to steal one of two boxes which in turn were being stolen by Eva Mendes' Sand Saref (The Spirit's childhood sweetheart).
All of their paths cross again when Sand Saref's quest for a mythical object clashes with the Octopus' hunt for an elixir of life which in turn will turn him immortal and give him world domination.
And that's it really except to say after 300 and Sin City, this is Miller's first major mis-step.
While the film excellently evokes the whole noir image of the 40s, some of the dialogue is clunky beyond belief; whether that's the script writer's fault or the original comic's tone, I'm not 100% sure.
The violence in the start of the film is certainly cartoonish beyond belief, recalling at times Looney Tunes at its ACME best both The Spirit and Octopus have a fairly brutal fight but neither show any cuts or bruises, or even the slightest sign of blood. While that hyper-reality is explained in the plot, it makes the scenes of violence irrelevant and an extreme distraction.
The Spirit is a womanizer and he certainly has his pick of the women in this film; from Eva Mendes' Sand Saref to Scarlett Johannson's Silken Floss via long suffering MD Eileen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) and Paz Vega's Plaster of Paris, it's easy to see why the Spirit doesn't really believe in the idea of monogamy.
I think the problem with The Spirit is one of tone while Macht plays it straight and acquits himself well despite some horrific dialogue, he's paired off with Samuel L Jackson who seems to chew every piece of scenery around him while plotting his evil machinations. That juxtaposition just doesn't work at all - and leaves the viewer unsure of the overall tone of the film.
The city itself looks stunning and Louis Lombardi (poor CTU schlub Edgar Stiles from TV's 24) does a great job playing the cloned sidekick character. Eva Mendes is slinky and sultry as Sand Saref, a tragic anti-heroine whose life has been shaped by a fateful moment with a criminal.
There's a hint of Pulp Fiction when the contents of the box are unveiled by Sand Saref (remember the Golden Glow from the suitcase?) but those deeper moments are countered with moments like Samuel L Jackson's Octopus' character vaporizing a cute kitten while wearing a Nazi uniform, which admittedly is supposed to be funny but just ends up feeling wrong.
Ultimately, given the promise demonstrated by the initial trailers for The Spirit, this full length film is a disappointment; too much of a mish mash in tone and too dis-Spiriting an experience for the viewer at times.

Despite the open ending lending itself to a sequel, it's hard to gauge whether there'll be enough interest at the box office to merit it.

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