“The Spirit” is “Sin City” minus Bruce Willis (Grade: C)

by Rebecca Lang

The Spirit is probably one of the only superheroes with a trademark of white-soled tennis shoes. He’s also one of the only celluloid superheroes who lack any charm or charisma whatsoever. Unfortunate, considering that the film had all its cards in line to be great.

Based on a fictitious place called "Central City," "The Spirit" is is a comic film whose release is sandwiched between "The Dark Night" and the upcoming "The Watchmen." Theoretically, it should have served as an aperitif for those who can’t wait for that bloody smiley-faced "New York Times"-lauded "Watchmen" to be portrayed onscreen, but it turns out "The Spirit" lacks any substance that sticks to the ribs. Despite having Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson to keep things sexy, and "Sin City" co-producer Frank Miller as a director, this film was missing something at its core.

That something is a super hero who is engaging in any way. Played by Gabriel Macht, the Spirit himself is a man mysteriously brought back from the dead who rescues dames in distress all out of his love for the city. He is a man of wandering lusts, from the diamond-loving Sand Serif (Eva Mendes) to the gifted doctor Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson). He even gets short of breath in the presence of the glittery, light-ray emitting allegory of death, played surprisingly well by Jaime King.

Poor Macht’s main problem is that he’s just not Bruce Willis. His narrative is a low-register, husky voiced string of drama and cliches, packed with masculine pomp and phrases like, "What’s ten minutes in a man’s life anyway?" Miller saw that it worked in "Sin City" and knicked it from that story without any trace of subtlety. But where Bruce Willis is bald and muscled and big, Gabriel Macht is boring and muscled but still boring. If Clive Owen had been cast as the Spirit, his sneering drawl might have carried the movie at least to a B-earning status. But alas, Samuel L. Jackson has to wrestle, shoot at, and attempt to cut the toes off of this guy.

"The Spirit" will go down in history as a lame version of "Sin City," but the creativity of its editing shouldn’t be ignored. Adopting an old fashioned color scheme of sepia-rich tones, Central City doesn’t seem to have anything inside it that isn’t red, blue or brown. Outside of normal shots, simple two or three-tone shots are often added in, usually in moments of intensity. While the Spirit is running, he is reduced to a black background and a red tie. In the presence of villains, the room in which they stand often morphs while they talk, switching like a mood ring from red curtains to white shades. One of the best elements of the film is the portrayal of death as a glittery, undersea woman, painted and surrounded by light to the point that she’s almost unrecognizable as actress Jaime King.

But "The Spirit" is always overambitious in its use of themes. The characters are always going underwater, getting caught in water, drowning in water … it gets kind of precious after the first few times. Sure comic-junkies like obvious metaphors and symbols more than the average joe, but "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" taught us all that allegories need not be contrived.

If anything, "The Spirit" is at least an interesting cultural artifact; at least cinema-philes can use it to understand just exactly how a film with great potential can end up so boring.