A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Spirit

May 25, 2011

The Spirit

I had an awful day at work today, so I asked Amanda to pick out an escapist movie that wouldn’t require much thought. “I wouldn’t mind if it was cheesy and awful,” I said. Somehow Amanda knew, even though she had never seen this movie before, that this was just the kind of awful that I needed.

I bought this because I fell for the marketing. Samuel L. Jackson? Scarlett Johansson? Eva Mendes? In a film directed by Frank Miller that uses the visual style of Sin City? How could it fail? The answer is, of course, spectacularly.

What I should have remembered was that notwithstanding the success of the 300 and Sin City Frank Miller has a fairly uneven record with regards to movies. This film here is more of one from the author of Robocop 2 than from the co-director of Sin City. It’s pretty clear to me that what happened was that after working on the set with Robert Rodruiges Miller said to himself, “hey, I can do that!” and set out to make another movie using the same techniques, camera tricks, and look, but with a slightly different feel.

The biggest problem this movie has is that it is too similar to Sin City I think. You could mistake it for a knock off or a sequel were it not so hammy and silly throughout. It has the same monotone voice-overs and hard boiled noir feel. It has the same bold use of light and shadow. It has the same use of strategic color to evoke the feel of a comic book brought to life. The look and feel of Sin City is so distinctive that this movie ends up feeling derivative and because this film is so farcical in tone it feels lessened by the natural comparison.

I should state that I have never read the original Spirit comic books by Will Eisner. I have no idea if this adaptation is faithful or how much of what we see is Miller’s interpretation of Eisner’s work. I can only really speak to what works in the movie and what doesn’t. And there’s so much that simply doesn’t work.

The plot revolves around a super hero calling himself the Spirit who is gifted with amazing recuperative powers. He runs across the rooftops of Center City USA in a style familiar to anybody who has ready Miller’s Daredevil books, leaping over water towers and dashing along power lines. His nemesis is the similarly gifted Octopus, a crime lord who takes great pleasure in working out his frustrations by going toe to toe with the Spirit because neither of them, apparently, can die.

That’s pretty much the movie right there. There’s a whole lot of stuff about a girl from the Spirit’s past named Sand Serif who is a glamorous thief in pursuit of a mysterious treasure from antiquity. There’s the mystery of how the Spirit and the Octopus got their recuperative powers and who the Spirit was before he first died. There’s a level headed doctor who is romantically hung up on the Spirit and has some kind of past with him. (This character is actually one of the more puzzling things in the movie for me. She’s an intelligent woman who used to be romantically involved with the Spirit in his earlier life before he first died but doesn’t seem to recognise him any more. I was never able to figure out if this was a deliberate joke or if she was meant to be in tragic denial or what.) There’s the Octopus’ large collection of rather dim cloned henchmen who are meant to act as comic relief but mostly just make me wince. But when you boil the whole movie down there’s mostly just the Spirit and the Octopus beating each other up.

Part of what makes this movie so difficult to enjoy is that it tries so very hard to be farcical and funny. The whole tone of the film is slightly off-kilter and strange. The character names, like Sand Serif and the evil seductress Plaster of Paris are simply odd. The acting is outrageous and extreme (but not always.) There are moments of surreal oddity such as when the Octopus is dressed as a samurai with big shaggy side burns for no reason, or when he menaces the Spirit dressed as a Nazi SS officer with monocle. The whole film is filled with strange “What were they thinking” moments that leave me feeling befuddled and confused.

I have to wonder what kind of movie the actors in this film thought they were making. I mean, they were on a stage with no sets and minimal props, acting in front of a green screen. Samuel L. Jackson as the Octopus delivers one of the most outrageous over-the-top performances of his career. Scarlett Johansson as his sidekick Silken Floss looks as though she really doesn’t want to be there and is trying to get out of her contract. The actor portraying the commissioner of police, Dan Lauria plays his role almost completely straight as though he’s in a perfectly normal noir crime movie, but in the same scenes there’s Stana Katic as the eager rookie Morgenstern acting like a complete ham with big exaggerated gestures and body language. I have to assume that most of it is a result of Frank Miller’s directorial style, and I’m sure he was more intent on shot composition and achieving a particular look than on managing his actors’ performances.

This movie is a mess. It’s not as funny as it seems to think that it is, has an unlikable womanising lead character, is filled with odd performances, and feels very much as though it’s trying to be something more than it actually is. It’s not quite as bad as I remembered it being from the first time I watched it (I think my assessment that first time was tinged by my profound disappointment that it wasn’t at all what I had been expecting.) It is, however, pretty darned bad. I was in the mood for a bad movie today though, and this one nicely fits the bill. I wonder if there’s a riff-track.

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

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