The Spirit Review

One hit, that’s all it takes.

One hit, and you suddenly find yourself rising to the top of the concrete hill, the wind blowing nothing but high praises and promises it can’t keep, whispering lullabies masquerading as deals. It’s a tough city, this burg they call Hollywood. Not for Frank Miller. He had Sin City. He had 300. That’s more than one hit, and that’s enough for him to go solo when he saddled up and fired the third shot. A goddamn shot in the dark, is more like it, but for Frank Miller, the rules of cinematic coherence is an old whore whose glory days is but a memory. Frank knew how to draw comics, and he knew how to close that old whore’s lips shut. Dear old misguided Frank… He was ready. Ready to conquer this burg for himself.

Dear Old Frank took Will Eisner’s beloved pulp hero The Spirit and beat him and pried him and made him his own little Prometheus, all guts and growl with no soul. This film, she is Frank’s. She is his ditzy lover, his screaming banshee. Full of nonsense-speak to fill the time and a story that doesn’t glue together, snatching random flashbacks and haphazard mysteries with greedy fingers, like a blind pervert itching to get his stuff wet but no clue where to look. Hell—this film, she is a petri dish. A sandbox. A pig pen built by that burg they call Hollywood for Dear Old Frank to play in. And boy, did Dear Old Frank play in it but good.

Is it a comedy? A drama? A spit from a grizzled throat to the face of its viewers? Dear Old Frank’s done and explored all three. Poorly written strife between its characters, such as the thorny relationship between The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) and Police Commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria), as well as Spirit’s constant love-hate tussles with sexy dames with names to put Bond girls to shame, all add nothing to flesh these characters out. The villainous Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) is a comic relief rather than a believable threat, reduced to nothing more than a painfully unfunny running joke. What this is, it’s taking the playfulness of the comic’s humor and turning it into idiocy. It’s a six-year-old’s Saturday morning cartoon trying to look cool to thirteen-year-olds. A Dick Tracy knock-off wearing a gritty shroud, a wide-eyed rube with a smoker’s voice.

Dear Old Frank figured the best way to bring Eisner’s proud creation into this brave new world of ours is to mutate it. Make it a hybrid. Dear Old Frank cobbled the only shot of talent he had left, the one thing he’s been known to be comfy at, the Mickey Spillane thieves’ cant of which Robert Rodriguez took as a blueprint when building his Sin City, and stuck it in a juicer with some Looney Tunes ‘toons. Sure, the result is a bitter drink that goes down as hard as it comes back up, but Dear Old Frank has his special brand of style, and it’s the kinda style that wakes you like a punch in the jugs. To hell with logic, to hell with story, to hell with characters and screw ‘em all but good. 300 offered itself just as thin, but it had a macho front and that’s that.

Right?

Sorry, sister, but The Spirit, she’s not that kinda broad. She offers no such consolation. What little action she has after the endless posing and exposition and rooftop diving are framed like snapshots of movements rather than movements. Shoulda known she’s the work of a comic book artist. You could smell it through the thick smog of the film’s self-indulgence. This film, she is a frigid broad, her moves too static for her own good.

There’s one moment, a flashbang of ingenuity in a black sea of posturing, when The Octopus practices the art of cloning in his secret lab and comes up with a silly creature that’s just a head on a hopping foot. “Damned odd,” he mutters. Damned odd, indeed. Damned odd as all hell. Damned odd, like this film. Yeah, just like it, all right. An abortion of a science project. Damned odd, what Dear Old Frank was thinking when he decided to make a mockery of both The Spirit and the medium of film by making its equivalent of an Etch-a-Sketch. Except he couldn’t be bothered none to erase the board before moving on to the next thought.

The Spirit is a movie without a director. It is a circus lion still wild, and sometime before the show, Frank Miller lost the whip.

Dear Old Frank, he made a mess of things, he did.

"The Spirit" opens December 25, 2008 and is rated PG13. Action, Comic Book. Directed by Frank Miller. Written by Frank Miller (screenplay), Will Eisner (comic book). Starring Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Dan Lauria, Sarah Paulson, Louis Lombardi, Stana Katic.

Dec
25
2008
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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