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The year of the comic-book movie ends with a whimper.



We almost made it. 2008, the year of the damn comic-book movie, is this close to being over. By my unscientific count, there have been about 63 comic-book adaptations this year. Lest you think Hollywood was fresh out, though, here comes one last, The Spirit, released a mere six days before '08 gives up the ghost. Aren't there poems out there we could make into a movie instead? Medication warning labels? E-mails?

And this weariness with the genre comes from a comic-book guy! What must my fellow Americans feel? In The Spirit's defense, though, it is a stab at bringing to the big screen for the first time a giant in the industry, Will Eisner. They named what are basically the comic-book Oscars after Eisner, and his style helped create the language of Western comics, widely borrowed by just about everybody. In other words, he's the Velvet Underground of comic creators — more influential than he ever was popular.

The Spirit is Eisner's comic that ran beginning in 1940. It, and now the movie, features the titular superhero, the alter ego of a cop named Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht), who was killed and mysteriously came back to life to continue fighting crime.

The Spirit's nemesis is the Octopus, a criminal mastermind who, in the plot, tries to become immortal so that, I guess, he can be evil for even longer. In the book, you never see the Octopus' face. In the movie, he's Samuel L. Jackson in all his Samuel L. Jackson glory, though, unlike most comic villains, he changes wardrobes as often as Cher in concert, wearing, in turn, a big Super Fly-type hat, a white kimono, a Nazi uniform, and a fur coat.

The Spirit was written and directed by Frank Miller, a famous comic creator in his own right. Miller's Sin City was made into a movie in 2005, and the look of that film will be the first thing viewers of The Spirit will think of: all-CGI sets, high-contrast visual information, parsimonious usage of color. In other words, the movies look like a series of Frank Miller panels come to life. Similarly, the dialogue here is stylized to the point of sounding distractingly anachronistic.

The whole thing oscillates between thoroughly awful and entirely entertaining (maybe lingering a bit on the awful side). If nothing else, I guess, The Spirit is positioned to appeal to the 13-year-old-boy market. For one, there's lots of non-gory, consequence-free violence. (The Spirit and the Octopus are indestructible, and Octopus' cloned henchmen are replenished like they're fishes and loaves of bread). For another, this is the sweet-toothiest of eye-candy movies you'll see, with actresses Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson, Paz Vega, Stana Katic, and Jaime King vying for the Spirit's (and our) attention. They could have an issue of FHM all to themselves.

The Spirit

Opening Thursday, December 25th

Multiple locations

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