If I had paid to see “The Spirit” in a theater, I would’ve been appalled. Having paid slightly less to rent the DVD, I’m merely annoyed. But if I had stumbled across it in the middle of the night on some off-the-charts cable channel, I might — just might — have been amazed.


 

If I had paid to see “The Spirit” in a theater, I would’ve been appalled. Having paid slightly less to rent the DVD, I’m merely annoyed.

But if I had stumbled across it in the middle of the night on some off-the-charts cable channel, I might — just might — have been amazed.

As bad as it is, “The Spirit” is fascinating. It’s the sort of deeply strange, deeply personal work that you expect to see scrawled on a wall or photocopied and handed out on a street corner.

Sure, “The Spirit” looks like a multimillion-dollar movie based on a 1940s comic book hero, but it’s really a cinematic canvas on which writer/director Frank Miller has spray painted all his offbeat obsessions.

Miller landed the “Spirit” gig because “300” and “Sin City,” both based on his comic books, were hits. For his solo directing debut, Miller claimed to be bringing cartoonist Will Eisner’s 1940s hero to the big screen. What he really did was deliver 103 minutes of corny narration, computer-generated cityscapes, and a plot that alternates between twisting itself in knots and barely existing at all. It doesn’t work as a movie, but I’ll say this: It’s never boring.

The story (not that it matters) involves the Spirit (Gabriel Macht) competing with his arch enemy, The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) to find a vase containing the blood of Hercules, which will make them immortal, or invulnerable, or something. What does matter — to Miller at least — is packing the screen with femmes fatale. Everywhere the Spirit turns there’s a babe trying to seduce him, from childhood sweetheart Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) to long-suffering doctor Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) to dancer/killer Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega). The only female not trying to get under his mask is Scarlett Johansson, and that’s because she’s too busy wearing ridiculous costumes and delivering bad dialogue with Jackson.

Jackson doesn’t act well in this movie, but he does act energetically, and whenever he’s on-screen, “The Spirit” approaches goofy nirvana. The film begins with a fight scene between them that involves a toilet, and it ends with Jackson blasting away with a larger and larger arsenal of guns. In between there are scenes where Jackson dresses as a Nazi, obsesses over eggs and creates a foot with a human head attached. (I’m not making this up.)

I can’t, in good conscience, recommend “The Spirit.” It’s not a good movie, and you’ll probably hit the stop button on your remote as soon as the stupid “The city is my lover” voice-over begins. I can’t blame you. I was sorely tempted myself. But if you’re willing to stick with it — and, ideally, watch it for free — you might just enjoy yourself.

Superhero movies are a dime a dozen, but movies as wildly warped as “The Spirit” are rare things indeed.

Will Pfeifer writes about DVDs. Contact him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movieman/. See video reviews at rrstar.com/multimedia.

Some DVDs out today:

“Bride Wars”
“JCVD”
“Martyrs”
“The She-Beast”
“What Doesn’t Kill You”

And CDs:

Bob Dylan, “Together Through Life”
Ben Folds, “University A Capella!”
NOFX, “Coaster”

Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline