Thursday, February 11, 2010

Smells Like Foul Spirit

"So, I got 'The Spirit' from Netflix," said Sargon the Terrible. "I keep hearing how awful it is. Want to come over and see for yourself?"

"Sure," I said. "I'm not afraid."

I probably should have been at least a little afraid. After a mishap with some Papa John's garlic butter dumping into my lap, we watched the movie. And on one level, it's worse, much worse, than you could possibly imagine. Senseless and stupid, with crap-ass dialogue, ponderous narration, and an incomprehensible plot.

But on another level, it's exactly what you expect from Frank Miller, who wrote and directed. It has all of Miller's touchstones--heavily stylized visuals, brutal fisticuffs, half-clad babes (equal parts slut and killer) in Nazi outfits, lots of first-person present-tense narration, rotund imbecilic henchmen. And there are actually a few nice moments here and there, like the scene where the Spirit, having found a photocopy of a villainess's ass, goes around to all the hotels, showing the ass to doormen to see if they can identify it.

But something about the movie kept bugging me. The narration and dialogue were mostly awful, striking exactly the wrong note, and yet something seemed familiar, like there was just one element missing that would bring all these elements together and make sense of them. And about halfway through, I figured it out.

Music. When the Spirit's narrating his way through the story, striking dramatic poses and telling you about his emotional landscape, he should be singing. In many ways, "The Spirit" plays like a musical, with the characters singing and dancing their ways through the story rather than moving and speaking like normal people. If you took the Spirit's monologues and set them to music, they'd still be bad, but I'm pretty sure they'd make more sense to the audience in a way they just don't now.

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