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"The Spirit"

Directed by Frank Miller.
Written by Frank Miller.  Based on the comic book by Will Eisner.
Starring Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  12/29/08

Folks--

Bad sign #1: In the Sunday edition of The Washington Post this weekend, the big ad for "The Spirit" didn't have ANY of those random TV station reviews from, say, John Smith of WABC in Tuscaloosa saying how "visually stunning" it was or how it was, say, "the best action movie I've ever seen!"

Bad sign #2: this whole...fucking...movie.

Chi, Meg and I came to the same conclusion during, and then after, our viewing of "The Spirit"--it is complete and utter dogshit, bad from literally the first scene all the way to its atrocious ending.  Directed by Frank Miller, who many comic book types would probably agree is one of the top ten comic influences of the last 20 years, "The Spirit" isn't even a good idea executed badly...worse, it is a bad idea--brought-back-from-the-dead cop Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) resurfaces as The Spirit, a crimefighter with no special powers outside of being nearly indestructible (NEARLY) who is going after a similarly-nearly-indestructible bad guy named The Octupus (Samuel L. Jackson, playing recent versions of his real-life persona).  It is established from the beginning that these two men are long-time nemeses (is that a word?) and have fight scenes where they can't kill each other.

Yawn.

Most of "The Spirit" is spent watching attractive women strut around spouting shitty lines, or Macht doing his best impressive of "The Phantom" while spouting shitty lines, or watching the henchmen of The Octopus fall all over themselves...by the way, they're all played by the same actor, Louis Lombardi, who like co-star Eric Balfour are best known for being killed off as CTU employees during their respective runs on "24."  Wow, this script is awful, and so are the film's mismatched personalities...at times, this is like Miller's "Sin City" (he created and wrote that franchise), but then it's an oddball comedy, but then it's a violent revenge tale, but then it's a noir gumshoe thriller...sadly, "The Spirit" does none of them well, and it forgets that these comic adaptations essentially require action sequences, and we get...zero.  There is one fight scene in the beginning (yawn), and then a moment where The Spirit infiltrates a salt factory by punching out the henchmen.  Uhh, hello?

"The Spirit" makes painfully clear how hard it is to direct a major motion picture and have the result be entertaining in the way you think it should; in other words, not just anyway can show up on the set and make the magic happen.  My guess is that Miller--who saw his "Sin City" property directed by Robert Rodriguez go gold, and then watched his work on "300" be directed successfully by Zack Snyder--thought about this and said something like

"I'll bet you that directing movies is a piece of cake!"

and then showed up to write and direct "The Spirit" and he was dead fucking wrong.  The job of directing films is such a challenge and to think that someone like Miller--comic illustrator/writer extraordinaire who will probably look back and this year and thank his work on Batman comics that influenced "The Dark Knight" for his successful year--underestimated this task so mightily is kind of a surprise.  It should also get you excited for "Watchmen", not because the trailer says so, but because Snyder (who also directed the best zombie movie I've seen this decade, 2004's "Dawn of the Dead" remake) is the one directing it.

Rating:  Hard Vice

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09