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Review: The Spirit Is Disspiriting

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Maybe you have to be a fan of The Spirit as a comic strip to enjoy it as a movie. Which would seem to limits its appeal severely, given that it was a cult item in printed form - and essentially ended in the early 1950s.

To me, the Will Eisner series was neither fish nor fowl - not exciting enough to compare to, say, Batman comics. But neither was it funny enough to hold a candle to Mad magazine - Mad classic, that is, back in the day - which Eisner's work helped inspire.

Still, based on Frank Miller's work with Robert Rodriguez on Sin City and the look of the Spirit trailer, this film seemed to promise something special. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

The action is listlessly cartoony, the humor even limper. The comparison here isn't to Sin City - it's to the Rocky and Bullwinkle movie (the one that serves as a permanent stain on Robert De Niro's filmography). This movie does indeed have a dated 1950s' Mad sensibility, just not its wit. If someone had used the word "fershlugginer," it would have been complete.

Gabriel Macht plays the Spirit (formerly Denny Colt), a polite skirt-chasing masked crimefighter, whose archenemy is the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson). Not Dr. Octopus from Spider-man, mind you - he doesn't have eight arms. Instead, he's got a make-up fetish like early 70s David Bowie - the only part of his look that doesn't change from scene to scene are the eight squiggles of mascara that are drawn under his peepers (four under each eye).

Octopus is after a historical artifact: the vase that holds Heracles' blood, which will confer true immortality and super-power on him. Except that both he and the Spirit are already immortal because Octo has injected them with some of that same juice they seem to be shooting each other up with on Heroes.

I could go on, into the Spirit's backstory, his romance with the hard-boiled, soft-hearted doctor (Sarah Paulson) who routinely patches him up, or the various bizarre cloning experiments Octo and his brainy sidekick, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), are running.

But what's the point? It would just make it sound way more interesting than it is. If you're expecting the dark, wicked humor and dazzlingly gruesome violence of Sin City, you'll be sorely disappointed.

On the other hand, if you're in the mood for a slavishly witless live reproduction of Eisner's comic - complete with monochromatic images punctuated with slashes of red - this movie is for you.

For more of my reviews and interviews, go to www.hollywoodandfine.com.