“Pardon me, but is there a point to all this?” sighs Gabriel Macht’s masked crimefighter The Spirit midway through a Samuel L Jackson monologue delivered in full SS uniform.
Some may feel the same way about Frank Miller’s visually arresting take on Will Eisner’s cult comic strip, a riot of noir chiaroscuro, greenscreen trickery and sultry femmes fatales that plays like the bastard love child of Sin City and Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow.
Such a campy combo won’t be to everyone’s taste, with a pronounced uncertainty of tone (deathly serious one moment, surreally zany the next) that suggests any hopes of creating a new franchise may be, to quote Sam’s grandstanding ubervillain The Octopus, “dead as Star Trek.”
As a one-off curio, however, The Spirit is serviceable enough, rattling along at a decent lick with enough wacky detail (Jackson’s cloned henchmen, a Greek myth for a McGuffin) and memorable dialogue (“I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead!”) to just about excuse the essential vacuity of the whole.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Macht himself, a roof-running Dick Tracy with no costume outside a crimson tie and no superpowers to speak of beyond an inability to die.
It’s the kind of blandly heroic patsy Bruce Campbell would’ve had a field day subverting. Macht, alas, plays it tediously straight, freely allowing himself to be upstaged by Jackson (wearing enough make-up to pass as a slaphead drag queen) and his numerous female co-stars.
This, of course, might have been Miller’s intention all along, his sumptuous array of eye-candy slinkily correcting the gender imbalance in this testosterone-heavy genre.
Yes, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson and Paz Vega are required to do little more than pout, prance and pose in a series of figure-hugging outfits. But they do it with such style that they end up catwalking away with the entire movie.
It ain’t no classic, with Frank Miller flexing little of the vitality Robert Rodriguez and brought to his take on the comic maestro’s own material. Approached as a kind of Sin City lite though, this retro exercise is too fast and flash to leave generous viewers dispirited.