Dir: Frank Miller. US. 2008. 108 mins.
Using the same green screen technology which created stylised films of his comic books Sin City and 300, Frank Miller's first solo effort as a director is an entertaining, if forgettable, cinematic imagining of Will Eisner's classic superhero The Spirit. Strictly two-dimensional, despite a colourful cast of three-dimensional actors, the film is a teen-friendly ride which is diverting enough to deliver some solid numbers in the US at the end of the year, followed by the international marketplace in early 2009.
Three years after Sin City, the technique of imposing actors on animated backdrops is wearing a little thin. Miller is a visionary when it comes to imagery and design, but the dark, dreary setting of Central City sometimes overwhelms The Spirit. Whereas Sin City kept the audience visually distracted with multiple storylines, this film demands that the audience stay in one murky visual milieu for a not-short 108 minutes, and it tests the patience. Perhaps, like fully-animated movies, audience attention span can only stretch to 90 minutes or so in these CG-dominated ventures.
Having said that, Miller's script is run through with a wry sense of humour which gives the film some buoyancy, and his actors gamely engage in the noir mood, throwing out one-liners and sexual innuendo with gay abandon.
Gabriel Macht, a handsome young actor with credits including The Good Shepherd, A Love Song For Bobby Long and The Recruit, is well-cast as Denny Colt, a former rookie cop who was murdered and mysteriously reborn as The Spirit, a masked crime fighter with a taste for the ladies.
The film wisely opts not to waste time on this backstory, instead immediately kicking off with a call from an old cop ally to come down to the mudflats near the waterfront where a deal involving psychotic criminal The Octopus (Jackson) is going down. Once there, he finds the cop dead, clutching a locket belonging to Sand Saref (Mendes), a beautiful jewel thief who happens to be Denny's childhood girlfriend.
A flashback reveals that the cop was killed by the Octopus, who is after one of two treasure chests which Sand has dredged up from a sunken cargo ship. One contains an urn filled with blood of Hercules, which could render him superhuman, the other a trove of jewels. She leaves the scene with the chest which Octopus is after, while he managed to gain possession of her chest.
Thereafter the film follows Octupus's quest to retrieve the urn and Spirit's efforts to stop him. Along for the ride are police commissioner Dolan (Lauria), his daughter and Spirit's wholesome love interest Ellen (Paulson), Silken Floss (Johansson), Octopus' alluring partner in crime, and the cloned brotherhood of his disposable henchmen, all played by Lombardi.
Jackson has never been this animated as the outrageous Octopus, although Johansson looks uncomfortable as the conniving Silken Floss, especially when the pair don Nazi uniforms to interrogate The Spirit. Mendes is as alluring as ever, vamping it up as the thief with a heart of gold. One of the film's best moments is when she wiggles up onto a photocopier to take a picture of her ample derriere.
Odd Lot Entertainment
Odd Lot International (+ 1 310 653 0999)
Deborah Del Prete
Michael E Uslan
Based on the comic book series created by Will Eisner
Samuel L Jackson