Who is that masked man? Once upon a time he was Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) a rookie cop killed in the line of duty. Now he’s The Spirit the perennially beleaguered and battered hero of Central City who can’t seem to ever die. No matter how brutal the licking he keeps on ticking. Such invincibility irks the Spirit’s nemesis The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) a megalomaniac who craves the same sort of power and would like nothing better than to crush Central City underfoot before setting his sights on complete world domination. Ever a ladies’ man even when teetering on the edge of death our hero is always surrounded by a bevy of beauties including childhood flame Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) now a crafty jewel thief; Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) the foxy physician who carries a torch for him; Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) who gets her kicks aiding and abetting the Octopus; fast-talking rookie cop Morgenstern (Stana Katic) whose definitely got her eye on the Spirit; and Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) whose loyalties like her outfit of choice can be rather skimpy. It’s a wonder the Spirit has any time to fight crime given how much time he’s making with the ladies. But who can blame him? In many ways and like so many comic-book movies story is distinctly a secondary consideration to mood atmosphere and attitude -- and The Spirit’s got ‘em all in spades. Channeling such film noir favorites as Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum Macht does a nice job as the gruff and tough Spirit occasionally pondering his fate when he’s not saving the day. As the Octopus Jackson doesn’t so much chew the scenery as make a seven-course meal out of it. Restraint is not in this film’s vocabulary. There are also plenty of opportunities for the film’s luscious ladies to strut their stuff which they do with good humor and even better outfits. Everyone on hand plays perfectly in sync with the spirit (no pun intended) of the proceedings including Dan Lauria as the crusty police commissioner and Louis Lombardi in multiple roles as the Octopus’ dim-witted henchmen all of whom have apparently been cloned from some low-IQ DNA. Look also for screenwriter/director Frank Miller as a cop who loses his head. In his first solo stint as director Frank Miller works overtime to capture the visual style of Eisner’s comic book and thanks to the advancements on CGI he has a massive palette in which to exercise that. The Spirit is eye candy -- at heart what comic book movie isn’t? -- but it makes no bones about it and no aspirations beyond it. It’s meant to be a cheeky diversion and on that score it makes the grade. The visual panache of the film is indeed impressive and there’s a refreshing sense of self-mockery to the proceedings. However those who prefer their comic-book heroes rendered in a more straightforward fashion may be taken aback by the sardonic approach. Here characters are just as apt to make a wisecrack or toss in a non-sequitur as deliver an important piece of expository dialogue. It will be interesting to see how the film performs at the box office if audiences embrace that approach and if indeed this becomes the foundation for the latest superhero franchise. Worse things have happened.
Last we heard in last year’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman Madea (Tyler Perry) was solving social cultural and familial problems. What a busy lady! Well she’s done gone and done it again after a whole new crop of problems pop up that need fixing. This time the conflicts revolve primarily around two sisters Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) and Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) both of whom are wary of their financial-minded mother Victoria (Lynn Whitfield). Vanessa is deathly afraid to love again after her husband left her and two kids and fears she might’ve met Mr. Right in the form of a bus driver (Boris Kodjoe). Meanwhile Lisa is in a physically abusive relationship with Carlos (Blair Underwood) “Atlanta’s most eligible bachelor ” but is afraid to leave him. Madea the antithesis of gold-digging Victoria solves these and many more problems as the family reunion nears. After Mad Black Woman’s surprise box office take last year bigger names were less reluctant to sign on. Accordingly the new actors in Reunion are very solid—borderline stellar collectively. The lone exception is Perry as Madea (as well as a few other characters) whose over-the-topness although expected reduces the air of professionalism from the rest. Underwood is so damn good at being so damn bad as the abusive fiancée Carlos while Whitfield matches him chill for chill in a very icy performance. The relative unknowns/newcomers are the most pleasant surprises however. Aytes has breathtaking beauty that would normally overshadow acting but not here. Anderson whose last film was ‘95’s Clockers is equally beautiful and evocative as a single mother torn. And for the female eyes there’s Kodjoe whom girls will likely fall for even more when they learn he can actually act. Perry wears many hats in Family Reunion: writer director producer star--and oh yeah he also wrote the popular stage production from which the film is adapted. Perhaps Perry’s workaholic attitude contributes to the film’s thematic overkill. There are a number of kinks in the film’s completely uneven story and the way it is told but perhaps the biggest problem stems from the fact that it still feels like a stage play. Sometimes that’s a plus for a film but it’s hard to think it was intended. This feeling is elicited by the sum of the story’s parts. Perry will be in one scene telling the tale of a beleaguered battered woman amid a linear and conventional storyline and in the next scene become Madea in her cartoonish and campy getup dishing out her tough love techniques. No doubt Reunion is an enjoyable play--only if you agree with Perry’s comedic remedies for serious issues.
Love means never having to say you're sorry; it's a many splendored thing; it's all you need. But in tennis love means zero; it means you lose. Or does it? For Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) a British pro tennis player seeded near the bottom of the world tennis ranks love actually inspires him. After scoring a wild card to play in the prestigious Wimbledon tournament he meets and falls for the rising and highly competitive American tennis star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) fueling a winning streak he hasn't had since he began his career. For Lizzie however the love thing doesn't necessarily work out as well. Her feelings for Peter become a distraction throwing her off her game. Hmmm. Can these two crazy kids keep it together long enough so Peter can fulfill his lifelong dream of winning the men's singles title even if it means his muse might have to sacrifice her first Wimbledon title?
Kirsten Dunst may be what draws you in but Paul Bettany is the reason you don't walk out. The British actor who made an impression with American audiences playing the oh-so-witty Chaucer in A Knight's Tale and then wowed them in Oscar winners such as A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander doesn't disappoint in his first lead role. Bettany's Peter embodies all that charm we've come to love and expect in our British actors--although thankfully not as floppy as Hugh Grant--he stumbles about and apologizes profusely. It's so cute. And he makes a pretty darn believable tennis player to boot (one would hope so after the intense training session the actors apparently had to go through to prepare for the movie). Unfortunately Dunst does not fare as well. Her Lizzie is appealing and she adequately handles the tennis stuff--but she ultimately fails to connect with her male lead making their relationship seem forced. Their beginning sparks are fun but when there's suppose to be a real flame igniting between them you're left scratching your head wondering just when where and why they fell in love so hard so fast. Yep that's a big red flag.
I've said sports movies usually work (see the Mr. 3000 review). To clarify: That is team sports. Sport movies where the action revolves around a single competitor are harder to pull off. It's just not as exciting watching an underdog struggle with himself in order to win. Luckily director Richard Loncraine (HBO's My House in Umbria) seems to know this fact. Even though Peter takes Centre Court (that's the British way of spelling it) Loncraine tries to at least create a more complete picture giving us a glimpse into the world of tennis as well as delving into the traditions of Wimbledon and how the Brits feel about the prestigious tournament where British champions are few and far between. Loncraine also utilizes real-life tennis pros such as John McEnroe and Chris Evert who appear as announcers to liven up the proceedings. Even the action on the court with close-up shots of the ball whizzing over the net gets the blood pumping a little--wish there was a lot more of that. But then of course one could just turn on the TV and watch the real Wimbledon instead watching a silly run-of-the-mill romantic comedy set there.