The Spirit -- 1.5 stars

Frank Miller teaches us that purposefully goofy ≠ good

Directed by Frank Miller. December 2008, USA. Rated PG-13: 103 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 12/26/2008)

Due to 2008’s proliferation of comic book movies—including the critical successes of Iron Man, Hellboy II and The Dark Knight—it comes as no surprise that the year ends with one last panel-to-screen adaptation. This time our hero is The Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a womanizing former policeman who rises from the grave to protect Central City, his one true love. His pastimes include talking to cats, wearing bright red ties, planning the defeat of the megalomaniacal duo of The Octopus (Samuel Jackson) and Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) in his dark lair and chasing after Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), an ancient Greek bling enthusiast.

Based on Will Eisner’s famous strip, this Christmas Day release has potential on paper. Writer-director Frank Miller has been on a hot streak with Sin City and 300, and with Mendes baring her buns and Johansson sparing no cleavage, there’s plenty of eye candy to go around. The Spirit is entertaining, all right. The heavily inked visuals take the sleek, shiny look of Miller’s Sin City to the next level. The shadows, the big hats, the tough talk, the Maltese Falcon prop . . . everything about The Spirit screams film noir tribute.

But most of the time you’re laughing at the movie’s over-the-topness—not with it.

At times, Mendes sounds as if she’s reading from cue cards. Macht’s voice overs mimic the narration of Raymond Chandler’s detective fiction—except they lack Chandler’s characteristic grit and cleverness. Like Jules in Pulp Fiction, Jackson’s character waxes philosophical—except he sounds like a doofus instead of a badass.

The Spirit leaves little doubt that its plot and characters are ridiculous on purpose. That works when the goofiness adds meaning and personality to the final product. In this case, however, Miller’s flourishes reduce the film to a jumbled, self-satirizing mess.