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The Spirit Review – Not Quite Sin City in Sepia

The Spirit Review – Not Quite Sin City in Sepia” width=”560″/>

When Will Eisner died, in 2005, at the age of 87, Hollywood producers were already hot on the trail of his beloved pulp property, The Spirit. Michael Uslan attended Eisner’s memorial service with the intention of recruiting Frank Miller, Eisner’s friend and protégé, for the project. Sin City had just come out, and Uslan imagined Eisner’s story being revitalized by Miller’s grim, green-screened aesthetic. Eventually, Miller accepted, declaring, “I can’t let anyone else touch it.”

I don’t know when Hollywood decided that Frank Miller was some sort of auteur. Until The Spirit, he’d directed precisely one third of a movie cultishly revered by the comics community only. Now here comes The Spirit, his excessively stylized, overacted follow-up.

Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) is a slum dog who grows up to be a cop, then gets shot and resurrected as The Spirit, an invincible masked crime fighter whose only true love is his city. When an old flame — diamond thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) — and his nemesis, Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), storm a swamp in search of buried treasure, Spirit leaps into action causing Macht and Jackson to engage in 5-year-old banter (“I’ll be learning you.” “No, I’ll be learning you”).

As in a bad sitcom, Saref’s and Octopus’s treasures get mixed up, so the three players spend the movie hunting each other down. Enough with the plot, though. The movie is billed, first and foremost, as a visual masterpiece, even as Miller swears up and down it will be nothing like Sin City. Visually, the primary difference is the palette: While Sin City lurks in blacks and whites, The Spirit exists in dull sepias. But while Miller’s clearly found a new color, he’s less committing to settling into one era. The Spirit leaps from a building and lands on top of a 1950s-style paddy wagon, then makes a call on his cell phone. Parallel universe, perhaps?

The performances are likewise off. Macht struts around the screen with forced suaveness. As for Samuel L. Jackson, if you’re wondering what his “Motherf—ing snakes!” line is going to be this time around, it’s “No egg on my face!” (Not as effective.) Meanwhile, Louis Lombardi (The Sopranos) saunters around as Octopus’s henchman, cracking corny jokes with an idiotic smile and Eva Mendes photocopies her derrière as a calling card.

There’s a moment toward the end when Scarlett Johansson, who plays Octopus’s second-in-command, essentially breaks the fourth wall by spouting what can only be Miller’s defense of his movie: “It’s fun for me,” she says. “Would you lighten up?” When a movie is as schlocky as this, the answer is no.

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