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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Spirit

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity.
Runtime: 1 hr 48 mins
Genre: Action/Adventure
Theatrical Release:Dec 25, 2008 Wide
Box Office: $19,781,879
Review :
Out in the blogosphere you frequently run across invocations of Godwin’s Law, which can be paraphrased as stating that sooner or later every argument will come around to a Hitler analogy. A similar axiom, applied to Hollywood, would stipulate that every movie star must eventually dress up in a German war uniform.
This is not the review of “Valkyrie,” by the way, a film that upholds this rule with respect to the special case of Tom Cruise. I’m just trying to figure out why, somewhere in the middle of “The Spirit,” Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson arrive on screen decked out in swastikas and jackboots. Nothing in the logic of the film explains it, but then, to use the phrase “the logic of the film” when talking about “The Spirit” may be to take the “oxy” out of “oxymoronic.”

To ask why anything happens in Frank Miller’s sludgy, hyper-stylized adaptation of a fabled comic book series by Will Eisner may be an exercise in futility. The only halfway interesting question is why the thing exists at all. The most plausible answer lies in its pedigree. Eisner, who died in 2005, is worshiped by aficionados of what he called “sequential art” for his graphic brio, literary flair and naughty wit. For his part Mr. Miller occupies a special spot in the modern geek pantheon as the author of high-gloss comics and graphic novels like “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” “Sin City” and “300.”

Though he was involved in the film adaptations of “300” and “Sin City,” “The Spirit” marks Mr. Miller’s first solo effort as a director, and his bold visual style is not well served by his clumsiness as a cinematic storyteller. The movie seems to be trying to combine a knowing, winking sense of pop-culture history with an embrace of the more soulful aspects of that history, but the result is a talky, pretentious stew of film noir poses and crime-fighter clichés.

Mr. Jackson and Ms. Johansson at least seem to enjoy themselves, which is their prerogative since they are the villains. Gabriel Macht, who plays the fedora-wearing, skirt-chasing, undead hero (a former policeman brought mysteriously back to life as a vigilante), works hard to give off an air of hard-boiled insouciance. Unfortunately whatever natural charisma he may possess is disguised by his hat, his mask and the murky shadows of the mise-en-scène.

What is most striking about “The Spirit” is how little pleasure it affords, in spite of its efforts to be sly, sexy, heartfelt and clever all at once. Or perhaps the movie flounders because its multiple ambitions are fundamentally at odds, like the various femmes, fatale and otherwise, who do battle for the hero’s heart.

The 108 overstuffed, interminable minutes of “The Spirit” yield exactly two memorable moments: when one of Mr. Jackson’s genetically engineered minions (all played by Louis Lombardi) appears as a tiny, hopping foot with a head grafted on to it, supplying an odd, creepy morsel of Surrealism; and when Eva Mendes, playing a character called Sand Saref, sits on a copy machine and presses the button. She produces what may be the only true-to-life image in the movie, as well as the most interesting.

Adapted from the legendary comic strip, THE SPIRIT is a classic action-adventure-romance told by genre-twister FRANK MILLER (creator of 300 and SIN CITY). It is the story of a former rookie cop... Adapted from the legendary comic strip, THE SPIRIT is a classic action-adventure-romance told by genre-twister FRANK MILLER (creator of 300 and SIN CITY). It is the story of a former rookie cop who returns mysteriously from the dead as the SPIRIT (Gabriel Macht) to fight crime from the shadows of Central City. His arch-enemy, the OCTOPUS (Samuel L. Jackson) has a different mission: he’s going to wipe out Spirit's beloved city as he pursues his own version of immortality. The Spirit tracks this cold-hearted killer from Central City’s rundown warehouses, to the damp catacombs, to the windswept waterfront ... all the while facing a bevy of beautiful women who either want to seduce, love or kill our masked crusader. Surrounding him at every turn are ELLEN DOLAN (Sarah Paulson), the whip-smart girl-next-door; SILKEN FLOSS (Scarlett Johansson), a punk secretary and frigid vixen; PLASTER OF PARIS (Paz Vega), a murderous French nightclub dancer; LORELEI (Jaime King), a phantom siren; and MORGENSTERN (Stana Katic), a sexy young cop. Then of course, there’s SAND SAREF (Eva Mendes), the jewel thief with dangerous curves. She’s the love of his life turned bad. Will he save her or will she kill him? In the vein of BATMAN BEGINS and SIN CITY, THE SPIRIT takes us on a sinister, gut-wrenching ride with a hero who is born, murdered and born again. --© Lionsgate Films

Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Jaime King
Director: Frank Miller
Screenwriter: Frank Miller
Producer: Deborah Del Prete, Gigi Pritzker, Michael Uslan
Composer: David Newman
Studio: Lions Gate Films



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