With all due respect to the monumentally talented Frank Miller, I'm just going to lay it out clear: I don't think the man is cut out to direct movies. At all. I've always suspected that Mr. Miller earned a co-director credit on Sin City because A) it's his baby, B) having Miller involved helps the film come release time, and C) Robert Rodriguez is a classy dude. But have you ever wondered what Sin City would look like if Rodriguez was out of the picture? Wonder no more, comic fans: Frank Miller has directed a film all by himself ... and it really isn't good.
Looking for slick-looking white-on-black panorama shots of a square-jawed hero as he leaps across the city rooftops? Anxious to get a lot of hot young actresses into sexy outfits? Into highly-stylized pulp dialog that sounds like outtakes from a Dick Tracy comic? Then apparently Frank Miller is your man. Taken as a series of unrelated sequences that sure LOOK cool, The Spirit might just float your boat. If, however, you like your films to include stuff like good sense, character development, internal logic, and a smooth-flowing story ... well, all I can say is that someone should have gotten Robert Rodriguez on the phone.
Based on the classic comic by the late Will Eisner, The Spirit is about an immortal crime-fighter who flips all over Central City and beats down all the evildoers. Unfortunately, The Spirit has an equally immortal arch-enemy called The Octopus, and it's this central idea -- two unkillable beings trying to kill one another -- that Miller spends 105 minutes avoiding. In place of a potentially fascinating battle between Unstoppable Force and Immovable Object, we're treated to swooning dames, dime-store chit-chat, gratingly repetitive dialog, and a whole lot of over-ripe silliness. (Plus, think about it: How interesting is a brawl between two invincible beings? I'd say ... not very.)
Wait, did I mention "dames"? Hell yes I did! As a matter of fact, here's a potentially fun way to watch The Spirit: Wait till the DVD comes out, pop it in and hit mute, and then listen to your favorite music as the pretty pictures flit across your TV screen. (Feel free to peek at the subtitles if you must, but I wouldn't recommend it.) And for a movie with so little going for it, The Spirit sure does pack a fine female wallop. Prop your eyelids open and get some coffee, because you'll definitely want to see the gals in this movie. They all come across just as silly as The Spirit (Gabriel Macht, doing the best he can in a goofy role), but MAN do they look great: Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Jamie King, Paz Vega, Sarah Paulson. He might not be a great director, but nobody can knock Frank Miller's taste where the ladies are concerned.
As the title character, Macht gives you just enough layers to make you wish that he had more than, say, two. In a different movie, Gabriel Macht could be a grade-A, tough-guy, hero type. Let's hope that he gets a chance to prove it. And as the villainous Octopus, I'd like to say we have "Samuel L. Jackson at his over-the-top best," but instead we have the usual Jackson: Wild-eyed, amusing, and certainly fun to watch -- but he never once comes across as a villain we should actually fear / dislike / hiss. And if it was, as he claims, Miller's goal to pay homage to Eisner's old comic, then why is his adaptation stuck using words like "bling" and phrases like "You'll believe a man can't fly."? Yikes.
Miller's biggest shortcoming as a director is that he favors isolated moments over the big picture. Scenes in The Spirit don't flow together as much as they pile up, one behind the other, with little in the way of story structure or narrative sense. The result is a movie that's both plotless and confusing, and man is THAT an irritating combination to deal with. Whenever the main story becomes too sketchy (which is often), we're jolted back into another flashback. One that uses all the same visual gimmickry that's found in the rest of the flick.
And then there are the words. Yes, I get and even respect that the goal here was to pay homage to the hardest of the hard-boiled and the pulpiest of fiction. But some things just work better on the page than they do on a screen -- and of all the results Miller was expecting from his rat-a-tat and redundant banter, I bet muffled giggling wasn't one of them. And truth be told: I knew this movie would be savaged and therefore I entered the theater actively trying to swim against the tide. As much as I'd love a tasty combo of film noir and superheroics, The Spirit is simply an empty vessel. It's a bunch of cool-looking visuals that should be looking for a half-decent plot, but are just too damn happy being cool-looking visuals.