Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Louis Lombardi, Jaime King, Sarah Paulson, Frank Miller, Eric Balfour, Johnny Simmons, Seychelle Gabriel, Stana Katic, Paz Vega, Dan Lauria
Written by: Frank Miller, based on comics by Will Eisner
Directed by: Frank Miller
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity
Running Time: 103
Date: 12/25/2008

The Spirit (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Lithe 'Spirit'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I missed the press screening for The Spirit as well as its Christmas Day opening. I didn't catch up to it until it was all but pronounced dead a couple of weeks later. And as it started I found myself grumbling at the stupid dialogue. But as it went on, I discovered that it had a kind of appealingly dumb, playful quality. It's far more low-key and enjoyable than either Sin City (2005), which Frank Miller co-directed, or 300 (2007), on which he's only credited as the creator of the source material. It moves in a similarly artificial, elastic way, but without the fetishistic need for excessive violence. Here Miller is paying tribute to the great comics pioneer Will Eisner, a man whose work any comics nut worth his newsprint should know. To that end, Miller effectively combines his own style with Eisner's style, which was starkly visual, but also funny.

The movie spends a little, but happily not much, time on the hero's origin before getting down to business: supervillain the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) wants a vial of blood that will make him immortal. High-class jewel thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) wants some golden armor that once belonged to Jason (of "the Argonauts" fame). These items are packed in identical crates that are, of course, mixed up. The Spirit must stop all the bad guys and save the day. And of course, Sand is the Spirit's childhood flame, returned after years away from her hometown of Central City. The movie's main flaw is Gabriel Macht, a dull pretty boy cast in the lead role. Likewise, Scarlett Johansson, as the Octopus's henchwoman Silken Floss, is a bit too earthy and natural to fit into the artificial surroundings, but Mendes, Jackson and many other cast members have a ball. Jaime King appears as some kind of "angel of death" that keeps trying to coax The Spirit away from his earthly plane, and Miller himself appears in a small role. But no matter what else, the movie always looks great. (The end credits, filled with Miller's original drawings, are worth sticking around for.)

DVD Details: Lionsgate has released a 2-disc set of The Spirit. The movie took such a drubbing from both critics and fans that it almost requires a new, second-wind cult following. Firstly, there is a commentary track with Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. It comes with two featurettes, including "Green World" (22 minutes), about the largely green-screen production, and "Miller on Miller" (16 minutes). We also get an alternate ending in storyboard form (with actor voiceovers). Then there are trailers for this and other Lionsgate releases. The second disc comes with a digital copy for your computer or iPhone.

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