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Overall Rating

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look: 8.16%
Just Average: 8.16%
Pretty Crappy38.78%
Sucks: 30.61%

5 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Spirit, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"It Ain't No "Sin" And It Sure Ain't Alive"
1 stars

As faithful readers have no doubt noticed, I have a soft spot in my heart for highly stylized and visually extravagant films that conjure up elaborate worlds filled with homages to old movies, tough anti-heroes, hiss ably over-the-top villains and gorgeous women clad (somewhat) in outfits that either conform to any number of fetishes or inspire some that you had never even dreamed of--some examples of this type of filmmaking include such cult favorites as “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” and “Sin City” and the recent “Dark Streets.” That said, despite my admitted fondness for films of this type, I am still able to retain enough of my critical sensibilities to recognize when one of them isn’t working--that the style isn’t impressive enough on its own to overcome the lack of substance--no matter how overwhelming the visuals may be and no matter how many fabulous looking babes are on display. Therefore, even though it has style to burn and a babe quotient so high that you might assume that the editors of “Maxim” served as the casting directors, I will not be launching into some kind of bizarre defense of “The Spirit” because once you get past the look and the lookers, all you are left with is a terrible, terrible film that squanders its impressive source material, the comic book series created by Will Eisner in the 1940s that is considered to be one of the peak achievements of that particular artistic medium, by transforming it into one of the more incoherent and sloppily executed action spectaculars to come along in some time.

For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with The Spirit or his origins--a group that pretty much encompasses anyone who isn’t either a massive comic-book geek or over the age of 70--he is Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht), a dedicated and idealistic young policeman who was killed in the line of duty and inexplicably brought back to life with astonishing acrobatic skill and an ability to absorb tremendous amounts of pain and abuse without any noticeable damage. With his newfound powers, he strikes an uneasy alliance with the local police in which he serves as a vigilante who stalks the streets of Central City in order to protect its citizens from its villains by any and all means necessary. His arch-rival, the snake to his mongoose, is The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a local crime boss who knows more than he is letting on about The Spirit and his secrets and who is currently plotting and scheming to get his hands on a vase containing the blood of Heracles, one sip of which will turn him into a god and grant him the power to take over the world. Aiding him in this quest is the seductive Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and a slew of cloned henchmen (all played by Louis Lombardi) who appear to have been sprung directly from the DNA of Joe Besser.

When he and the Octopus aren’t engaging in in an endless series of fisticuffs that largely involve them commenting on how strangely indestructible they are while slamming bricks and toilet seat over each others skulls, the Spirit has his hand full juggling what seems to be the city’s entire female population. There is Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), the medical examiner who still carries a torch for her late former flame, Denny Colt, even as she carries on a strange flirtation with the Spirit. Like many comic book heroines, she suffers from that strange form of myopia that renders her incapable of recognizing a loved one as long as they are wearing something over their eyes. Another is Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), a local girl who was once the girlfriend of Denny when they were kids until a tragic event caused her to flee town and become a murderous international jewel thief and gold digger. Now she has returned in pursuit of, of all things, the mythical Golden Fleece of Jason and becomes involved with the other goings-on when she inadvertently winds up in possession of the vase with the blood of Heracles while the Octopus gets a hold of the fleece. There is Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega), an exotic type who walks back into the Spirit’s life after he caused her some long-ago hurt and is eager to return the favor with a belly-dancing routine that includes a couple of machetes. Hell, even the distaff members of the police force have a thing for him as well--throughout the film, he has newbie cop Morgenstern (Stana Katic) following him around and from the look on her face, it is clear that she would like to put her handcuffs to uses not necessarily covered in the department manual.

“The Spirit” was written and directed by Frank Miller, the comic artist best known for the graphic novels “The Dark Knight Returns,” “300” and “Sin City” and for co-directing the hugely successful 2005 screen version of the latter with Robert Rodriguez. Having never directed a film before, some observers greeted that co-director credit with more than a dash of skepticism and suggested that Miller co-directed the film in much the same way that Linda McCartney used to co-write songs with her better half. Based on the evidence supplied by his solo directorial debut her, it appears that the extent of Miller’s artistic contributions to “Sin City” extended no further than to fetching Rodriguez some coffee and trying to peek into the women’s dressing rooms while they were getting into their extra-kinky outfits. That may sound a little harsh but it is the only explanation that comes to mind when trying to understand how a movie like “The Spirit” could have gone so wrong since it looks like it was made by someone who never even saw “Sin City,” let alone co-directed it. After all, someone who saw “Sin City” would have realized that one of the reasons that it worked so well was because while it deployed an ultra-stylized look that literally appeared to have been ripped directly from the pages of the graphic novels, it also took the time to tell stories that were filled with eye-popping violence, weirdo humor and, most importantly, characters and situations that viewers could actually take an interest in once the impact of the visuals wore off after a few minutes. By comparison, Miller utilizes the exact same stylistic touches that were used in “Sin City” for “The Spirit” but since we have seen them all before in the earlier film, they don’t really have much of the same impact this time around and unfortunately, Miller doesn’t have anything in his arsenal to captivate viewers once they get used to the film’s look. He tries to throw in plenty of violence and humor but the former is handled so cartoonishly that it is impossible to take as anything other than a goof (in “Sin City,” when people got hurt, they stayed hurt) and the latter is so smug and self-conscious at times that it makes the TV version of “Batman” look like “The Dark Knight” by comparison. And while Miller was able to brilliantly reconceive an iconic comic-book character for a new era in “The Dark Knight Returns,” all he manages to do with this particular property is snatch a few character names and plot strands from Eisner’s original work and throw them into a story that seems comprised of bits and pieces cobbled together from stuff that was deleted from other material and with very good reason.

Another reason why “Sin City” worked so well is because it was made by a filmmaker with an innate ability to tell a story in purely cinematic terms that is undeniably exciting. Not only does “The Spirit” lack the pizzazz that Robert Rodriguez brought to “Sin City,” it appears that Miller was off hanging out by the dressing rooms on the day when he was supposed to be attending Basic Filmmaking 101. As a result, the story moves at a snail’s pace, characters suddenly appear without any real explanation of who they are and how they relate to each other, head-scratching story elements are thrown in without any sort of rhyme or reason (can anyone explain why Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson appear at one point clad in Nazi outfits in the context of a story that takes place far enough past their shelf life to include “Star Trek” references?) and the action scenes are overedited muddles that are virtually impossible to decipher. Worst of all, Miller doesn’t seem to have any idea of how to stage even the most basic of scenes--there is one point where Jackson and Johansson have about five minutes of expositional dialogue to deliver and the only thing that Miller can think of for them to do is to have them pace back and forth for the duration in the kind of staging maneuver that makes it look like nothing so much as an extremely amateurish play.

To give Miller some credit, he has managed to assemble a pretty good cast--far better than the material deserves--and the only explanation I can come up with is that all of the actors on display here really want to be in “Sin City 2” and figured that the best way to get the inside track on the roles would be to sign up for this one in order to curry favor with Miller. However, one of the other things that made “Sin City” work so well was that the actors took the material as seriously as Rodriguez and Miller did and turned in strong performances that maintained a brilliant balance between the stylized and the soulful--Mickey Rourke turned in one of the best performances of his entire career, veterans like Bruce Willis and Benicio del Toro were equally impressive and even such generally gorgeous blanks like Jessica Alba and Josh Hartnett came across as believable inhabitants of their cinematic world. This time around, none of the actors here make anything even remotely resembling the dramatic impact of the “Sin City” cast. As the Spirit, Gabriel Macht, the poor man’s Gabriel Mann, is such an indistinct cipher that you find yourself forgetting about him even when he is right there before your eyes on the screen--needless to say, this is not the kind of reaction that you want the star of your superhero epic to inspire in audiences, especially when one of the running gags is that he is so irresistible and charismatic that all the ladies practically swoon at his feet. Speaking of the ladies, “The Spirit” has the most attractive cast that I can recall appearing in a movie since “My Blueberry Nights” but they all seem to have approached the material as if it was just an extended theme photo shoot and merely pose instead of perform--Paulson pulls off the not-inconsiderable trick of coming across as even duller than Macht, Mendes does little more than make an entrance almost as impressive as the one she made in “We Own the Night” and show off her rear end to the camera at every opportunity (a glorious sight, to be sure) and Johansson doesn’t get to do anything except give Kate Winslet a run for her money in the competition for this movie season’s extra-coveted Hottest Screen Nazi award. As for Samuel L. Jackson, this is yet another one of those performances of his in which he simply screams virtually ever single one of his lines out at the top of his lungs while no doubt praying that another shark will pop out of nowhere and drag him away from all of the silliness.

Despite the visual assets provided by some of its actresses and the occasionally amusing bit of faux-hard-boiled dialogue (“Someday I’d love to do your autopsy”) , “The Spirit” is more or less a complete disaster on every level and is fully deserving of its slot as the obligatory genre craptacular being tossed out on Christmas Day as counter-programming to the good movies glutting the market (following in the footsteps of “Darkness,” “Black Christmas” and “Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem”). This is a bigger shame than usual because if it had been done properly, a big-screen version of “The Spirit” could have really turned into something special. On the bright side, “The Spirit” was produced by Lionsgate and as they recently showed with “Punisher: War Zone,” they are perfectly willing to relaunch a property if the first version failed to strike a chord with viewers. (Of course, “Punisher: War Zone” was worse than their previous “Punisher” movie, but at least they tried.) Maybe in a couple of years, they will get the nerve to take another stab at it. When they do, I can only hope that they can find a leading man strong enough to carry the film. I also hope that they can find a director capable of telling a compelling story without letting it get overwhelmed by a cinematic style that isn’t quite as impressive as it thinks it is. Finally, I hope that if they do decide to relaunch the franchise, they will hire at least one person with enough of a working knowledge of the character to know that he is supposed to be wearing a blue suit throughout.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17451&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/25/08 02:06:47
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User Comments

9/18/17 The Big D Fun and stayed true to the comic. Who got the allusions to Jules Feiffer and Steve Ditko? 4 stars
9/16/17 morris campbell IT SUCKS 1 stars
2/10/13 Doug Just watched it again, and it grows on you. It isn't as bad as its reputation. 4 stars
7/20/12 Sean Harrison Weird, just weird. 3 stars
4/02/11 Daniel Grinton I walked out because if I wanted pretty girls and no plot I could just watch porn. 1 stars
2/28/11 jashar fun, fun, fun! 5 stars
1/23/11 bill norris no way near as good as sin city, but stana katic was hot in it 3 stars
7/26/09 gc A superhero movie thats actually WORSE than catwoman and Batman and Robin put together 1 stars
7/13/09 FrankNFurter Boring, incomprehensible poo with some of the worst acting ever captured on camera.Shameful 1 stars
4/29/09 VMANIC1 Bizarre, ridiculous, lots of dialogue. Deserves two and one half stars. 3 stars
4/26/09 Gertrude No fun. And the whole comic book style just gets annoying after a short while. 1 stars
1/16/09 Stephanie Bruce If you like the way sin city was filmed this is kinda the same way, different and fun 4 stars
1/15/09 Aesop This pile may get HB to add a ZERO star choice. Stop Frank Miller before he directs again. 1 stars
1/07/09 Griffin A little bit of everything does not always mean the movie is for everyone! 4 stars
1/05/09 Mack Quirky humour barely saves the Ed Wood equivalent of Sin City. 3 stars
1/04/09 Apollo Miller's so fifteen minutes ago. 1 stars
12/25/08 Darkstar Wow, I kinda had respect for frank miller until I saw this. Really really bad. 2 stars
12/25/08 Greg Ursic Sin city wannabe without the story or characters. 1 stars
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  25-Dec-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 14-Apr-2009


  DVD: 14-Apr-2009

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