|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Thursday, 01 January 2009 23:05|
Director: Frank MillerIt may seem natural that, after years of influential and masterful handiwork, Frank Miller, the visual genius behind Batman: Year One and Sin City, the Golden Palm-nominated artiste extraordinaire, should hobble home from the Hollywood party of his life and, relaxing in his ensuite facilities, squeeze out a bit of a turd. Now this is not just a turd, this is a Frank Miller turd – it is shiny, sleek and sexy, like no other turd before it, but under the seductive surface sheen, it still has the whiff of a turd.
Bringing to motion Will Eisner’s 1940’s strip, The Spirit tells of rookie cop Denny Colt, a man born again as an invulnerable superhero. A man tied to his city and separated from his childhood sweetheart, you’d expect an engaging, enigmatic figure. You’d be wrong. He wears a tie. It’s red. That’s about as involving as it gets. Not that the film doesn’t try – it’s filled with swooning women and sepia-tinged flashbacks, but none of it really rings true. Frank’s canvas is splattered with CGI, sure enough, but where Sin City had a murky metropolis to immerse yourself in, this is more akin to a soggy tea towel.
Granted, it does have a cast of colourful characters: Silken Floss (Johansson), a femme fatale with a sense for the scientific; Sand Saref (Mendes), another femme fatale with “a thing for the bling”; and the arch enemy of the piece, Octopus (Jackson), a megalomaniac with a taste for the Greek. You see, he’s after the mythical blood of Heracles (not related to John and Perry Cleese), which will render him immortal.
He explains this to us by shouting. A lot. Samuel L. Jackson may not do subtlety; he may, in fact, only do Samuel L. Jackson, but this part was written with him in mind. The result? A bland parody of himself. It’s occasionally entertaining – he relishes the chance to monologue to the camera – but most of the time it has the ring of a Virgin Media ad. You expect him to belt out “the mother of all broadband!” any second. Take the money, Sam, but a bit more effort wouldn't go amiss.
It all comes together with enough panache (David Newman’s soundtrack is juicily derivative, Miller’s style self-aware), but The Spirit is lacking its titular noun. Perhaps it’s Robert Rodriguez, or the fact that Frank is dabbling with someone else’s material. Maybe its the over-acting of everyone, playing into the post-production pixels and not against them. The 12A certificate hardly helps, sacrificing the tone for more kid-friendly laughs. Shifting from hard-boiled to slapstick and back again, The Spirit often seems unsure of its footing. “Come on! Toilets are always funny!” yells Sammy after battering our hero with a U-bend. I’m afraid, Frank, that they’re not.
Haunted by prior success, The Spirit never quite shakes off the ghost of Miller’s past. Unfortunately, our heroic phantom pales in comparison.