Thursday, December 25, 2008
My City Screams ... for its money back!
The Spirit of Christmas Don't
Years ago, I decided at one point to count the number of movies I had seen. I grabbed the most recent Leonard Maltin Film Guide and went through the book alphabetically, numbering as I went along.
I never finished the project, but I stopped counting somewhere past 1,000. The reason I bring this up is because it not without some authority and considerable experience when I say that The Spirit may be the worst movie I have ever seen, which would put it in the running for worst movie of all time.
I'm not saying this because I have some kind of emotional investment in the character, the way a Star Wars fan complains about The Phantom Menace. I like Will Eisner's comic series a lot, but I went in to the movie expecting it to have more to do with Frank Miller than Will Eisner. But I could not have expected what I got.
I also say this as someone who really, really likes Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin. If I had any hopes going in, it was that The Spirit would be the equivalent to an ASBAR movie. And there are moments when it is clear that the two works are made by the same person, and I don't just mean the moments of self-plagiarism where lines appear straight out of ASBAR. I'm talking about moments where the tough-guy, faux noir dialogue goes so far over the top that it passes parody into something more sublime. Or moments like when the Spirit tries to track down Sand Serif by showing a photocopy of her ass to various bellmen at Central City hotels.
The Spirit is 103 minutes of pure, undiluted WTF.
The experience one feels when watching this is the exact opposite of that emotional epiphany that one experiences in the presence of great art, and yet, the feelings are remarkably similar. It's the moment of ecstasy that lies at the heart of the Dionysian, which Nietzche describes in The Birth of Tragedy--the loss of self experienced at the moment when reason fails. Nothing can explain what would allow for the existence of a movie that is this bad in every conceivable way a movie could be bad: acting, writing, cinematography, editing, music. I wasn't on the set when the movie was made, but I can guess that the donuts at craft services were probably stale, too. Or shit-filled. In fact, a shit-filled donut may be the best metaphor for describing this movie.
When the movie begins, some glimmer of possible quality shines through. The Spirit runs across the rooftops of the city on his way to the docks in order to intercept his nemesis, the Octopus. He stops a mugging in a scene that's both stylish and clever, then moves on to meet up with a police officer, played by Frank Miller himself. Miller is dispatched by the Octopus, who then proceeds to fight the Spirit in a scene that was widely distributed on the internet. This scene is actually quite funny, with a tone similar to a Warner Bros. cartoon. If the film had managed to sustain this tone, it may have been a decent movie, but it didn't, and it isn't.
Also, Gabriel Macht surprisingly pulls off the Spirit. I say "surprisingly" not because I think that Macht is a bad actor, but that Miller's dialogue sounds nothing like words and sentences that any human being would ever utter. Nonetheless, Macht manages to deliver his dialogue, especially the voice-over narration and other odd moments where he addresses the camera directly, with sincerity and conviction. In one scene, the Spirit wakes from unconsciousness tied to a dentist's chair. As he opens his eyes, he says, "Something smells dental." He then looks around to see a variety of Nazi paraphernalia around the room. "Dental ... and Nazis," he grunts through gritted teeth. I think this specific line was meant to cause viewers to think of the movie Marathon Man, which would then cause them to think of Laurence Olivier and finally realize that even a great actor such as he would not be able to pull off dialogue like this. Or something like that.
Most of the other actors don't fare well at all. Scarlett Johansson delivers her lines like an actor in a high school drama production, and Samuel L. Jackson seems barely able to muster the energy to do that Samuel Jackson thing. There seems to be a running gag about the Octopus's obsessive feelings for eggs, but I have no idea how it was supposed to be funny.
The plot has something to do with a quest for the blood of Heracles and the Golden Fleece (really--I'm not making that up). Miller also gives The Spirit some kind of Wolverine-style healing powers, and though they are intricate to the film's plot, they also indicate just how far away the film is from Eisner's original material.
The movie is wall-to-wall bad, and describing the plot or even the smallest moment in the film can be an exercise in frustration. There was a moment, though--a tipping point, if you will--where I had the epiphanic realization that revealed just how bad this movie was. The Octopus's henchmen are all clones, all played by Louis Lombardi. All of them are also considerably intellectually challenged, so the Octopus tries to grow a smart one. Instead, he gets a tiny head on a foot that hops around the lab table. The Octopus then spends much of the scene marvelling at how crazy this looks.
Once that scene passed, my mind entered a state of virtual numbness, as if I had been beaten into submission by torturers and was now ready to accept whatever they had to offer, like Winston Smith in Room 101 at the end of 1984. So, when Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson appear in Nazi officer uniforms, while Paz Vega, in a belly dancer outfit, dances around with a sword, I was no longer in any condition to be shocked or repulsed. And when the Octopus tells the Spirit that he's "as dead as Star Trek," I just sat back and nodded.
Interestingly enough, Miller leaves out one significant member of The Spirit's supporting cast: the hero's sidekick and offensive racial stereotype, Ebony White. However, after having watched the movie, I'm at a loss as to why Miller left the character out. It can't be due to a sense of restraint on the filmmaker's part, because nothing in this movie indicates that any kind of restraint was was applied, internally or externally. Seriously, in a movie that features Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson in Nazi officer uniforms, one would be hard pressed to find this any more offensive.
Instead, I have to think that Miller just forgot to use the character.
And Valkyrie can rest easy--it is not the worst movie featuring Nazis to come out this week.