Frank Miller writes and directs The Spirit, a campy, scattershot attempt to adapt the comics of Will Eisner. Too bad a sense of goofiness overcomes him, his crew and a cast led by Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson.
Macht's Denny Colt has a backstory that gradually unfolds as we learn he once was a policeman. Resurrected with immortality, he adopts the titular, arcane persona, as his "true love" is the city, that is, Central City.
The eye-masked Denny does his protector thing with the chief law enforcement officer (Dan Lauria). The officer's physician daughter (Sarah Paulson) is Denny's former sweetheart who helps patch him up especially as he battles master criminal, Jackson's The Octopus. The senseless scripting involves the arrival of comely Sand Serif (Eva Mendes), a notorious jewel thief, and a "bad" exchange which includes the coveted blood of Heracles (or Hercules) as someone makes fun of the mythological name.
Part of the problem is the clashing of genres, especially in the first wild encounter between The Spirit and The Octopus, that suggests the appearance of a graphic, stylized cartoon. It never generates the wit and gritty emotion of Miller's collaboration with Robert Rodriquez in Sin City. Not that the filmmakers were necessarily going for that. What The Spirit may fleetingly have going for it is a visual presence, mononchromatic, with the occasional splash of color, sometimes painterly in appearance or as if a bird flew over the set.
There's no invitation of a guilty pleasure here when it comes to contrasting unevenness in scene changes or peering in on the man often narrating his feelings in an uneasy sort-of-way. There seems to be importance in taboo love affairs and dead parents, as the hideaways and weird names are just odd and incredulous rather than part of what should be stylized fun.
Jackson probably comes off best in chewing up the scenery, especially one in which he shows off his pearly whites, or another in Nazi garb. Macht (decent in A Love Song For Bobby Long) is just bland and uninteresting as the enigmatic, conflicted hero whose attractiveness doesn't go unnoticed by the likes of the photogenic, posturing Mendes (who gets the best costume work) and the chic, matter-of-fact sidekick of The Octopus, phoned in by Scarlett Johansson, who comes way down after the breezy Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
With all the gimmicks and a silly over-the-top approach, The Spirit never establishes a proper mood (one that Eisner would really appreciate) and is too cheeky, awkward, and incoherent for its own good. It lurks, leers, and chomps in such a rhythmless way that it would hardly resonate even today with the Saturday morning cartoon watchers.