TITLE: The Spirit
GENRE: Style-drunk superhero story
THE PITCH: After Central City cop Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) dies but gets better, he becomes a masked avenger called the Spirit who takes on criminals such as the similarly indestructible Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) and seemingly countless femme fatales.
MONEY SHOTS: Nothing looks particularly good, but it'll be hard to forget the Octopus and the Spirit fighting in a swamp and hitting each other with a toilet, a kitchen sink and a six-foot wrench. Louis Lombardi plays all of the Octopus' moronic cloned henchmen, including a tiny side effect that amounts to a head attached to a bouncing foot. Belly-dancing Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) threatens the Spirit with sabers while he's tied to a dental chair. Explosions leave sinister, octopus-like clouds.
BEST LINE: "Some day I'd love to do your autopsy," Dr. Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulsen), the "good" love interest, tells the Spirit.
WORST LINE: "I want diamonds and I want sports cars and I want long dresses and I want money!" declares the Spirit's old flame, who becomes international thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes). Also, it's just plain bizarre when the Octopus declares, "No egg on my face! Not a glob! Not a glob."
FLESH FACTOR: The Spirit is weak but the flesh is willing. Macht appears shirtless several times. After a bath, Sand Saref drops her towel and shows her derriere. (That Sand Saref really puts my font in all caps, if you know what I mean.)
FASHION STATEMENT: The Spirit prizes his domino mask, his fedora and his flapping red necktie (which is animated at some moments). Sand Saref wears a tight wetsuit in her first scene. The Octopus wears, well, where to begin? He appears decked out like a spaghetti western gunslinger, a feudal Japanese samurai, a doctor, a fur-bedecked pimp, and even a Gestapo officer with a monocle. His henchmen wear sweaters emblazoned with their names, such as "Pathos," "Logos," "Huevos," etc.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Set "this year," The Spirit features the fashions and visual style of the pulp fiction 1930s, but also includes computers, cell phones and contemporary brands such as Nokia, Bulgari and Aquafina.
COMIC BOOK REFERENCES: Street signs name-drop such pioneering cartoonists as Steve Ditko, Harvey Kurtzman and Jules Pfeiffer. Characters mention Thor, Robin and "the Elektra complex," which must be writer/director Frank Miller's nod to his ninja assassin character from the Daredevil franchise.
MP3-TO-BE: Christina Aguilera's cover of Marlene Dietrich's torch song "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)" sums up the film's heedless appropriation of retro cool in a nutshell.
BETTER THAN THE SOURCE? A spirited "No." Cartoonist Will Eisner created The Spirit in 1940 as a short comic book series for newspapers and became one of the most innovative yet unsung artists the genre has ever known. Miller's adaptation amps up the sex and violence until Eisner's gentler original touch is barely recognizable.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Imagine the stark, monochromatic visuals of Miller's Sin City as a backdrop for the campy humor of Adam West's "Batman" series. Then imagine that the visuals hurt your eyes and the humor leaves you cold, and you get a sense of The Spirit as a wearying waste. In a year when The Dark Knight – a film partly inspired by Miller's gritty work on Batman in the 1980s – elevated comic book archetypes to epic cinematic proportions, The Spirit makes an unwelcome throwback to the most juvenile, superficial hero movies imaginable.
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