December 25, 2008

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The Spirit (PG-13)
A sneaker- and red-tie-wearing superhero protects Central City from villains of all stripes, including the nefarious Octopus, in The Spirit, a highly stylized gee-whiz adaptation of Will Eisner comics by writer-director Frank Miller.

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) has the soul of a cop but the invincibility of the masked crime-fighter he’s become ever since he “died.” His nemesis is Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a villain right out of the 1960s TV Batman, complete with sexy sidekick Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and interchangeable clone henchmen who appear in groups with names like Pathos and Phobos or Huevos and Rancheros, which are helpfully written on their shirts. Both The Spirit and Octopus seem to have the ability to fight, Tom-and-Jerry-style, until both are walking around woozy without incurring any lasting injuries. The Spirit is helped in his rejuvenation by Ellen (Sarah Paulson), a doctor who is deep in swoon for him. But like all the gals the Spirit meets, she has to share him with all the gals he meets. The Spirit, it seems, has mad game.

When it comes to true feelings of squishy aw-shucks likeyness, those he seems to save for Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), his onetime childhood sweetheart and now a jewel thief. She gets mixed up in a scheme by Octopus to acquire an ancient treasure that, if used correctly, will make him AS A GOD.

Cornball doesn’t even begin to describe the corniness of this movie. It is a corn cob dipped in corn meal fried in corn oil and served on a bed of corn chips. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a gritty, graphic-novels-as-art movie in the vein of Sin City. It has that look but certainly not that movie’s smarts. I mean, “Sand Saref” — this is not a movie that ever even takes itself seriously. And, so what? The Spirit is at its best when it embraces its “and soon I will control THE WORLD” cheesiness. Jackson’s performance here makes his Snakes on a Plane seem like a nuance-filled Oscar bid, and the female characters are really more about their pin-up girl appearances than their actual internal character development. This movie, with its two-bit story and its showy animation-like effects, doesn’t give you any of the excuses that Sin City did to try to explain it as a grown-up movie on its merits. It isn’t a grown-up movie (not that I’d recommend taking kids to it) and it doesn’t really have any merits. But The Spirit is fun — fun in a really bad-for-you way. Sure, you might feel a little queasy after spending so much time with this corndog, but you won’t regret seeing it. B-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity. Written and directed by Frank Miller (from a Will Eisner book), The Spirit is an hour and 48 minutes long and is distributed by Lionsgate. The movie opens wide on Thursday, Dec. 25.