A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 451 – The Spirit (2008)

The Spirit (2008) – May 25th, 2011

Tonight Andy said he needed something that wouldn’t make him think. And we do have a multitude of non-thinky movies left on our list. Movies that won’t tax the brain when trying to understand the plot or the purpose or anything like that. No serious themes that we’d want to spend pages pondering. No deep backstory for our personal connection to the movie. Nothing like that. Just something ridiculous and silly. So I looked through the list and dismissed a few things right off the bat. Dismissed a few others after looking them up. And then saw this and suggested it. I hadn’t seen it. Andy had. I knew it had been panned. And yet we owned it. So it seemed pretty much tailor made for tonight.

And I was right! Except I did end up having to think a bit when it came to trying to explain to myself how the movie could be as bad as it is. Really, I find it baffling. I can see so many things that were attempted and could have been done well and just weren’t. I’ve seen a couple of reviews describe this movie as “fun” and I have to wonder what their basis for comparison is. A root canal? The 1040 long form? Watching paint dry? Punch Drunk Love? I mean, this movie kept attempting humor but I don’t think it ever reached more than a moment or two of funny, let alone movie-long stretches of fun. What makes it so frustrating is the attempts that were made. Attempts in so many directions I honestly don’t know if the movie knew where it was going.

That right there is, I think, a large chunk of the problem. This is a comic book movie based on a serial I’m not familiar with. So I did a little reading and as far as I can tell it was a noirish detective serial that had a good dose of humor mixed into its regular plots and storylines. So I would expect there to be some humorous lines. But there aren’t just humorous lines dropped into an otherwise serious story. It’s this bizarre mix of parody and homage that never quite works, largely because the parody aspect needs firmer ground than it’s got. What, exactly, is it parodying? Sin City? I wouldn’t say Frank Miller can’t parody his own stuff, but it’s not like the movie is a genre unto itself. If it’s parodying noir in general it misses the mark completely because the bits that read as parody aren’t the femme fatale or the tough detective or the faithful lover or the gritty and dark city streets. The bits that read as parody are the comic book parts, with the clone henchmen and the out-of-nowhere Nazi villains and the hero himself.

On top of the problem with the uncertain tone is a distinct lack of focus on the part of the actors. Now, this is a more than decent cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendez and Scarlett Johansson alone should have been able to breathe some life and vitality into this movie. But they don’t. Okay, Jackson does every so often, but he’s saddled with the most ridiculous part I think he’s ever played. And this is the man known for Snakes on a Plane. He’s playing the villain here, and he gets some great scenery chewing moments. Moments where I can see what Miller was going for. His obsession over a bizarre little failed clone that’s just a tiny head on a foot and his dislike of free range chickens? It’s so out of place and laughable but then he doesn’t get to really go anywhere with any of it. Each strange quirk gets carried for a line or two and then it’s played out. The Octopus (his character) has eight of everything? Great! Except we only hear that in the climactic fight scene. If you’re going to go whole hog and be that ridiculous then damn well do it! Don’t half-ass it and leave us hanging there, wondering if he was supposed to have eight henchmen and eight cats and eight labs or whatever. And to top it all off, remember I mentioned that the villain is an out-of-nowhere Nazi? Yeah. Complete with lightning bolt tattoo on the back of his head. What the everloving fuck? That’s not parody. That’s not canon as far as I can tell. It’s just tossed in there for no discernible reason aside from making him more of a villain? I don’t even. So all of Jackson’s hamming it up comes to naught because he’s got what is probably one of the worst roles I’ve ever witnessed on film and he can chew chew chew and it’s never going to make the role palatable.

Not that the rest of the characters are a whole lot better, but at least only one of them is an unnecessary Nazi (seriously, the Spirit himself has a cell phone so we’re not set in the 1940s). Sadly, she’s also the most lacklustre character of the bunch, and that’s saying something. My theory is that Scarlett Johansson signed on, then read the script and hoped she was missing something and by the time she realized she wasn’t it was too late to back out. It’s the only way I can explain her performance. I usually quite like her, but from her first lines it was pretty clear to me she was done with this movie. I’ve seen more interested reads done in high school English classes. She gets a couple of lines near the end that hint at the parody her character might have been trying to portray, but if a movie has to have a character flat out say that she’s a parody? The parody has failed.

The rest of the movie is just plain messy. It’s got this plot with the Spirit’s backstory and the Octopus being his nemesis and neither of them can die. But it’s also got some backstory from when the Spirit was a kid and not the Spirit yet and he had this girlfriend, Sand Saref, who ended up turning to crime. And now she’s stolen a crate with a vase full of blood in it instead of a crate full of some sort of treasure we never really find out too much about. The Octopus wants the vase full of blood and while one would think they’d arrange a trade right quick one would be wrong. Instead they faff about for an hour or so. The Octopus makes his hideous foot clone and Sand kills some people for kicks and the Spirit tries to track them down and his faithful doctor girlfriend waits for him to get carted into the hospital. And her father’s the police commissioner and he works with the Spirit, who used to be a cop before he died, but he doesn’t like his lone wolf techniques. And there’s a rookie who wishes she was Paget Brewster and a siren who’s actually death, I think, who tries to seduce the Spirit into dying whenever he gets close to death.

It’s not that it’s hard to follow! This is not a complicated movie. It’s just messily put together. Oh, visually it’s quite pretty, with the not quite black and white visuals with little hints and pops of color. Unfortunately it’s not handled as well as the other two black/white/bit-of-color movies I can think of, namely Sin City and Pleasantville. The former was stark, keeping the color to splashes and highlights. Red sneakers here, blue eyes there, yellow bastard in the corner. The latter used some more subtle and realistic shades, washing them in over skin and the pages of books and the leaves of trees. This movie hits somewhere in the middle. The Spirit’s tie is bright red, but the Octopus’ gloves have dark burgundy accents that barely read. It diminishes the whole effect and while the movie is pretty, it could have been so much more visually arresting.

I honestly don’t know what else I can say about this movie. I don’t know what else there is to say. It’s a movie that doesn’t quite know what it is. It’s got a great cast that’s wasted on clumsy lines and a messy plot. It’s got a director who has gone on record as having been so distracted by an actress in a skimpy outfit that he yelled cut instead of action (and if I was an actress in a movie where the director did that I’d be pretty pissed – just saying). It’s got flat humor and pointless Nazi villains and it is about as much fun as doing a sink full of dishes.

May 25, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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