“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.
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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.