LOWELL, Mass. — “The Spirit” is a horrible movie. Now go out and watch it. Sounds like a joke, right? Well, it is a joke and one that the movie is in on.
“The Spirit” is a mock-noir film about a domino masked, fedora wearing hero who has a great mystery in his life. If you think that sounds like every hardboiled film ever, you would be right. The movie doesn’t win points for an original script impart to it originally being a comic book that helped define the pulp-noir thing to being with.
Writers: Frank Miller (screenplay), Will Eisner (comic book series)
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel Jackson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson
Seen at: Lowell Showcase Cinema
Running time: 103 minutes
Before I get into the review, for all you neckbearded Spirit fans that can’t stand the thought of such a comic classic ending up on the screen stop reading after this paragraph. I’ve talked to many people who were insulting the film based solely on the trailer, and there self-righteous attitude wouldn’t let them accept even that it might be good. This is Frank Miller’s “The Spirit,” not Will Eisner’s “The Spirit.” I loved the books as much as any nerd does, but you need to understand that the slow moving plots, and joke cracking hero would translate very poorly to the screen, so you’re going to get Miller’s “Booze, Broads, and Bullets” approach to storytelling. In the end, it’s not a perfect translation, but rather a reimagining of the character and story. Ok, now that I have made sure to get a lot of death threats, let’s talk about the movie, shall we?
The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) is the hero of the story, and I don’t use the word hero lightly. Think of someone who stops bank robberies, defeats mad scientists, and saves your neighbor’s cat from a tree all in the same day, and you get the type of guy the Spirit is. The main plot of the movie involves him fighting his arch-nemesis, the Octopus (Sam Jackson), over a couple of priceless artifacts. It’s simple, flawed and frankly pretty uninteresting.
The acting is almost as bad as the script. Every character is either over the top, or might as well be played by a stand in. Big names like Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson are there just as eye candy and to put their names on the posters. Our virtually unknown protagonist, Gabriel Macht, might go back to being unknown if this is the top of his acting ceiling. Sam Jackson is actually very memorable in this. We all know he is a huge comic book fan, and clearly wanted this part. He’s still just an over the top version of himself, but it feels like he wants to be there.
However, I might be looking too deeply into this. If this film is supposed to invoke the feeling of a 50’s gangster movie, then maybe they got the last laugh. The Hero is damn near perfect, the Villain is a mad scientist trying to conquer the world, The Femme Fatale is sexy and otherwise useless and everyone else is just a clichƒ© of various archetypes. It seems so perfectly bad that it was made to be bad.
There is no way anyone could miss on literally every single aspect of characterization. It appears the wool might have been pulled over my eyes.
Then why am I telling you to go see it? Well, not to sugar coat it, it’s very pretty. Once you understand that the script is a mess of clichƒ©s, one liners and deus ex machinas then you realize that it’s still fun because of the wonderful settings and visuals. In a style similar to Frank Miller’s other movie, “Sin City,” it is very desaturated, almost to the point of grayscale, then covered in these wondrous bright colors that remind you of what it must have felt like when man first saw fire.
The movie also uses very stark black and white contrasts that look fantastic, especially with the constant crimson red of the Spirit’s tie flying throughout the scenes.
There are a couple of standout scenes. Visually, anything with the Spirit running over the rooftops, or any fight scene is worth the price of admission. There is another scene that I didn’t think anyone would ever make. Picture Sam Jackson talking about death. Now picture it on a stage surrounded by Nazi paraphernalia and Jackson is himself dressed in a SS uniform. Needless to say, there were a couple gasps from the audience from this scene. The whole thing is done in a tongue and cheek manner, but I think “The Spirit might have just tried to make Nazis funny. You can’t fault this movie for not trying new things.
In the end, the Spirit will remain a popcorn flick. It has moments that make you both laugh and groan out loud. Its paper thin plot is covered up by its amazing visuals. So go grab someone, drag them to a matinee showing, clear your mind, and be prepared to see something that they don’t make often, an enjoyable bad movie.