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The Spirit

Frank Miller Should Have Quit While We Were Ahead

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars.

Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, The Dark Knight Returns) continues his freefall into faux noir with The Spirit, the wholly unnecessary big-screen adaptation of the late Will Eisnerís signature comic book creation. Filmed in-studio, mixing greenscreens, live-action, and CG backgrounds, The Spirit comes off as a cheap knock-off of Sin City, but without the ultra-violence that sent a certain segment of the moviegoing public into paroxysms of fanboy delight.

The Spirit still retains Millerís noir-influenced, comic book style, but a once-fresh, innovative style from three years ago now feels tired and unimaginative. Add to that a sporadic Looney Tunes-inspired comic tone and it becomes clear Miller is having an expensive joke at his audience (and producersí) expense. Itís also clear that no one, critics or moviegoers, can take The Spirit seriously as a work-of-art, commercial or otherwise.

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) is a former Central City police officer, Denny Colt, who, mysteriously resurrected, dons a suit, red tie, fedora, domino mask, and trench coat, and reemerges as Cityís champion, the Spirit. Only Commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria) knows the Spiritís true identity. When heís not running into his arch-nemesis, the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), and engaging in pointless fistfights involving crowbars, cinder blocks, and toilets, the Spirit is taking the fight to Central Cityís resident criminals.

Lorelei Rox (Jaime King), death personified, tries to drag the Spirit into the afterlife after each near-death experience (as a masked hero, he has many). Dolanís daughter and the Spiritís on-again-off-again lover, Ellen (Sarah Paulson), steps in when the Spirit needs urgent medical attention. The Spiritís heart, however, still belongs to childhood friend-turned-jewelry-thief, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes).

The Spiritís negligible storyline centers on an ancient vase containing Heraclesí semi-divine blood. With it, the Octopus hopes to become immortal and, of course, rule the world (Miller never explains how the two are connected). With his hotter-than-hot, if superfluous assistant, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), and a dunderheaded army of clones, the Octopus sets up a trade with Sand Serif. Serif wants something the Octopus has, Jasonís Golden Fleece. In between fistfights, double-crosses and femme fatales, including yet another ex-flame of the Spiritís, Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega), and a potential future flame in the form of an overeager rookie cop, Morgenstern (Stana Katic), The Spirit circles back to the inevitable, sadly yawn-inducing, confrontation with the Octopus.

If Samuel L. Jackson prancing around in a pseudo-cowboy outfit, a sword-wielding, kimono-wearing samurai outfit, mad scientist garb, a SS/Nazi officer uniform (seriously), and 70s-styled pimp-wear, seems like the height of artistic invention or comedy perfection, then youíre in luck. If, however, Millerís fetish for Nazi kitsch strikes you as tasteless, offensive, and juvenile, then giving The Spirit a wide berth is probably the better choice. Millerís Nazi fetishism goes hand in black glove with his backward, regressive take on women. In Millerís world, women are idealized for their voluptuous physical attributes (e.g. Eva Mendes, Jaime King, and Scarlett Johansson). Then again, given the one-dimensional, Madonna-or-whore characters Miller writes for women, there isnít much for an actress to do except look sexy, pout, and deliver ridiculously inane dialogue with as straight a face as possible.

Miller does deserve credit for excising one of Eisnerís more noxious creations, Ebony White, a racist caricature that doubled as the Spiritís driver and confidante. For that much at least, Miller deserves a round of applause or, if thatís going overboard, then a note of thanks. Unfortunately, what Miller-the-writer takes away, Miller-the-director takes away with his redundant voiceover narration, cringe-inducing cornball dialogue, bizarre character obsessions (e.g. the Octopusí incessant costumes changes, and his running commentary about eggs), and suspense-free action scenes that wonít convince anyone, however fleetingly, that the characters are in danger or that we should care about them at all.

If, ultimately, The Spirit proves anything (assuming Miller was out to prove something to himself and others), itís that he should stick to what he knows and does best: pseudo-hard-boiled revenge fantasies elevated from clichť by his abundant talent as a graphic artist. As a ďfilmmaker", Miller knows nothing about pacing, rhythm, or scene transitions. He knows less about writing dialogue that isnít laughable (and when it's laughable, it's for all the wrong reasons). Sadly, Miller's first solo film as a director (he received a co-director credit on Sin City) should be his last.