Review – The Spirit

Originally Posted at Aint It Cool News 12/18/08

Frank Miller has become a man of reduction. Spare dialog. Sparse layouts. Black/White. Stark lines cutting figures out of granite on a comics page. Sin City. The Dark Knight Returns. Ronin. 300. Heralded as Comics’ Dashiell Hammett by way of Will Eisner; Miller’s colleague, friend, & mentor. So in keeping with the spirit of Miller’s most recent work, here’s a reductionist, starkly worded review of his adaptation of Eisner’s “The Spirit.”

Things That Worked:

The score was okay. It was pretty much Danny Elfman’s “Batman.” I think I heard the Batman Theme at least 5 times in it’s entirety. I guess that’s kinda cool. In a stupid way. There’s a misstep, though, when a key moment at the end is scored with what sounds like the Duracell chimes.

He made all the pretty girls look really pretty. Except for maybe Jaime King. She looked like Galadriel tripped and faceplanted into a bedazzler. But Sarah Paulson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johannsen? Smokin hot. No question.

There’s a headfoot. It’s kinda funky.

Who knew a thespian of Louis Lombardi’s unique talents could effectively play a headfoot? He gleans maybe 2 intentional laughs out of the script. That’s better than Samuel L. Jackson did.

Arthur the Cat nails his role as a meowing cat.

Things That Didn’t Work:

Everything fucking else.

This is not a movie that is so bad it’s good. This is a movie that veers towards that threshold, but is such a failure it can’t even achieve that level of incompetence. It’s a limp dick being flogged for 90 minutes and having nothing but a rash to show for it. There isn’t a single 10 minute stretch of this movie that displays any sort of tonal coherence. Not a single performance seems to be in tune with any other performance, and those performances are sometimes out of step with themselves depending on which takes Miller is Krazy-Gluing together. It’s ugly, it’s annoying, and it’s embarrassing.

I’d tell you why the plot doesn’t work but I’ve already forgotten it. I’d highlight some of the particularly horrible parts, but aside from Spirit straightfacedly seducing a woman by quoting Elmer Fudd, anything Eva Mendes does onscreen, and Miller’s inexplicable need to shoehorn in Nazi iconography, I can’t discern individual moments of badness. It runs together like the heated contents of your local diner’s greasetrap. Samuel L. Jackson is trying, but the script is failing him utterly. Gabriel Macht is trying, but there’s nothing to him. I don’t think Scarlett Johannsen is really even trying, honestly.

This is embarrassing because it lays bare the engine that propels Frank Miller, an engine fueled by infantile stupidity. He put so much of his personality, his fetishes, his foibles, into every inch of the frame, and I was embarrassed at the resultant mess. It was like the socially awkward uber-nerd in drama class trying to be edgy and funny and quirky all at the same time, all in the same monologue; stammering and spitting all over himself in an increasingly annoying and loud act of desperate attention whoring. The movie is constantly begging the viewer to tell it “you’re cool.” “Look at me! Look at this ass! Look at these stiletto heels! Ho Boy look at all this Nazi stuff! Nazis! Look, I’m melting a kitty cat under a nazi flag! Here’s Hitler! I’m shooting the hero with a bunch of huge guns! Look at me look at me look at me!”

Frank Miller is creatively bankrupt and artistically empty. This is a work so bad it calls all his previous good work into question. That’s not an overstatement, or fanboy overreaction. A movie this personal, this crammed full of unmistakable Millerisms, that fails this hard, makes one look back at all his other work and question whether the praise came from a place of severe misunderstanding on the critics’ part. If we’d known this was all there was behind Miller’s cranky glare, would we have judged him a success? Did we project a whole bunch of substance onto those works? Substance that this movie would have us believe Miller himself wouldn’t recognize if it shot him in the chest with 8 barrels?

He can’t make a movie. He can’t write one, he can’t direct one. He can barely make comic books anymore. He saved up all his creative goodwill to do this movie. He had a bank full of chips after Sin City, and cashed them in to realize his vision of his friend’s world. This was his dream. And this is what he did with it. He had his chance, he got his stage, he fixed his spotlight, and he showed us nothing. Less than nothing, honestly, because nothing is understandable. I can wrap my head around the concept of nothing. But what he shone the light on is befuddling, stupid, inept, pointless and sad. I still don’t really get what any of this movie is supposed to do, what it was supposed to make me feel, how it was supposed to grab me. It has all the grip of a quadriplegic. It’s 90 excruciating, interminable minutes that go nowhere, and succeed at almost nothing. Its successes seem accidental. This movie makes the case that Frank Miller is a man who has spent all his life surrounded by creative people, and hasn’t learned a goddamn thing from any of them.

Lasting Effects of This Movie:

From now on, I will hear Dan Lauria’s line readings from this movie whenever I read All-Star Batman and Robin. Regardless of character. Joker. Robin. Black Canary. Doesn’t matter. They’re all Goddamned Dan Goddamned Lauria.

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:06 am  Comments Off on Review – The Spirit  
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