The Red Right Hand
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THE SPIRIT
Down These Mean Streets A Man Must Come. A Hero Born, Murdered And Born Again

Director
Frank Miller

Starring
Gabriel Macht
Samuel L. Jackson
Eva Mendes
Scarlett Johansson

With The Spirit Frank Miller has created my perfect world: clear-cut good guys and bad guys, each with their own dark past, walk the 30's/40's deco streets in long coats and hats, unable to connect with those around them, constantly falling for the enigmatic, stunningly beautiful and wholly deadly dames that coast in and out of their lives. Oh, but they have modern technology. Modern technology and classic cars! Come on! That's genius! For all intents and purposes, I should love this movie! And yet... I really don't.

The main plot thread (where 'main' read 'only' as there aren't really any subplots) follows indestructible crime solver, The Spirit [Macht]; formerly Denny Colt of the Central City Police Department, before he was resurrected by a twisted scientist known only as The Octopus [Jackson]. That's pretty much it. There's a brief flash-back to explain the origin but all we seem to know is that the Spirit's childhood flame [Mendes] shows up to steal 'something' and runs into trouble with the law along the way. Add a few moronic henchmen, a host of beautiful ladies, gruff voiceovers and you're pretty much there. The story may not be great but to give Miller credit, the underlying elements and nods to classic cinematic releases and Greek mythology are relatively entertaining - not a great deal but enough to note.

If you were unsure, The Spirit is not an original piece; it's Miller's semi-loyal adaptation of a 1940's newspaper comic strip of the same name. One of the key problems with this release is the fact that it's trying so hard to capture that post-war quirkiness that was rife throughout the media of the forties and fifties. Having said that, Batman managed to reinvent itself without falling into the pitfalls of all that camp 'golly gosh darn, gee whiz, mister' Munster-esque crap, so there's really no reason to include it. On top of this major flaw there's very little character development, the incredibly dull and flaky plot that progresses through the motions to its very predictable outcome, the wooden, cheesy acting and amateur directing. In short, people are going to hate this film.

I went into my screening with absolutely no expectations (listeners of my podcast will know that my early predictions were similar to that of Max Payne) but because of that, I managed to quickly identify what Miller was striving for; essentially a revival and reintegration of the corny comics he grew up with. With this in mind, there were a few good points to highlight: with the success of both Sin City and 300, I think it would be unfair to judge and slate the avant-garde visual style. Personally, I think it works and the people have decided it's acceptable as long as the story holds up and the visuals are there to tell the story not sell it. More importantly, there's David Newman's score, which marvellously nodded toward classic noir and the work of Ennio Morricone, creating a very enjoyable aural experience.

To be honest, if this were a graphic novel I may not have minded so much but as a film it just flopped on so many levels. And yet I have awarded it halfway marks of five-out-of-ten; yeah, the reason for this is partly out of pity and partly due to the fact that although it was stupid and failed to achieve a lot of what it set out to do, I was never actually bored or so hideously angered by what I was watching; the problem was, I simply didn't give a damn about any of it. I'm quietly confident that sums up the word 'average.'

Release Date:
1st January 2009

The Scene To Look Out For:
Any scene that opens with the lines "What smells like dental? Oh... dental and Nazi, even better" has got to be a bit of a strange one and certainly warrants addressing. Following a semi-pointless belly dance from Paz Vega, the Octopus appears before a bound Spirit in full Nazi uniform reciting a monologue about death. Mid-way through the Octopus' femme fatale sidekick, Silken Floss [Johansson], appears and the monologue drones on before evolving into an origin flashback. At no point are either the present dental sink or Nazi attire fully explained or justified, they're just there. And that completely sums up my thoughts about The Spirit. You sit in the cinema, bound to your chair (because I refuse to walk out of a film, no matter how bad), watching baffling things that make you frown and giggle at the same time but at no point is it ever explained why. Who the hell felt the need for this? Who said we wanted to watch it? Why was it done... like this? I'm not complaining, I'm just curious. Maybe if I knew why, I wouldn't have to be tied up; maybe if I knew the point of it and who it was intended for I wouldn't feel the need to stand up and shout, "Could somebody please inform me exactly what is going on here?"

Notable Characters:
This film stars Gabriel Macht; know who he is? No, most don't. What about Samuel L. Jackson; you know him, right? Good, good. There's also an array of pretty girls. So of this collection whom do I pick? Whose would I single out? Do I pander to my geek nature and proudly state, 'How can I not pick Sam Jackson?' or do I adhere to the fact that I'm a bloke and isolate one of the ladies to drool over? It's a difficult one to call. I think I'll do a break down of all our leading ladies, just to tear them apart - a sort of misanthropic, misogynistic rant really.
Lorelei Rox / Jamie King
Lorelei is supposed to be this ever-present female personification of death, snubbed as all other females have been by the Spirit. Like most dames in the flick, she's hurt, jealous and keen to keep the Spirit for herself. As far as character and acting goes, although she is a bit of a wild card, I thought King did a fairly good job and Rox's little pop-ups didn't overly hinder the plot (this could be because I'm used to Cortana popping up and pissing me off all the time - don't worry if you don't get that).
Sand Saref / Eva Mendes
Eva Mendes character was fairly two dimensional but, again, I didn't have many problems with her; she was simply a direct girl with daddy issues who likes the shiny stuff. I must confess, Mendes does annoy me and I've only really been impressed with her work in Training Day, but as her role namely consisted of her talking about her arse... and the subsequently showing it, she didn't really have a lot to do.
Silken Floss / Scarlett Johansson
Although I used to sing high praise for young Scarlett, she is beginning to demonstrate that she is a bit of a one-trick pony. I'm sorry, I gave her a year to find a role that wasn't another chance to just play herself (a la Knightley) and she has failed, miserably. Her character was half-decent, though a little flat but this was worsened thanks to a wholly plain performance.
Ellen Dolan / Sarah Paulson
As the somewhat stable character of the piece (and Denny Colt's ex), you would think Dolan would demonstrate the core emotion necessary to ground this film; in a word, she doesn't. Paulson manages to wrangle a fairly decent performance out of it all but mired by a host of female leads all budding for screen time, she seems to get lost in a sea of beautiful faces.
Officer Morgenstern / Stana Katic
Granted, Officer Morgenstern is the stupidly upbeat rookie who adores the Spirit as much as the rest of the female populace but she was supposed to be. She was written as a plucky sidekick and to give her credit, Katic managed to neatly pull this off.
Plaster Of Paris / Paz Vega
Then there's the brief performance by temptress torturer, Plaster Of Paris... from Paris. Everything about this character and Vega's performance was mind-bogglingly asinine and unnecessary.

Highlighted Quote:
"Free-range chickens and their big brown ugly-ass eggs. They piss me off. Every time I think about those big brown eggs they piss.. me.. off"

In A Few Words:
"As an homage to camp, cheesy comics of the forties, The Spirit does a relatively good job... but in all honesty, who the hell would want to see that?"

Total Score:
5/10


Matthew Stogdon