The Spirit stars the charisma-challenged Gabriel Macht in the title role, hambone Samuel L. Jackson as the villain, and an eye-candy harem of fantasy femmes (Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson, Paz Vega).
Miller's idea was to put them in cartoonish neo-'40s getups, orchestrate a few fights, and let fly with ridiculously lusty, crusty dialogue. After the actors' soundstage work was done, a team of digital artists painted in the green screens with noirish cityscapes and bold, stylized backdrops.
As for the plot: something to do with an ancient vase, the blood of Heracles, and, oh yeah, immortality and world domination. Ho hum.
The sleek, shadowy settings, which pay homage to 1940s and '50s B-movies in a fake kind of way, are matched by line readings that are as vacuous as they are arch. (Miller wrote the screenplay, too.) The nadir of knuckleheadedness is reached in a scene in which Jackson, as the Octopus, a bad guy with bad eye makeup, and Johansson, as Silken Floss, his slinky, bespectacled hench-lady, sport SS uniforms and blather on to a captive Spirit - strapped to a dentist chair and about to be injected with a lethal serum.
Behind Jackson and Johansson: a projected image of Adolf Hitler. Yes, yet another title to add to this holiday season's list of Nazi-themed classics!
Mendes is curvy and vampy as Sand Saref, a jewel thief of sorts who knew the Spirit back when they were both innocent teens on the streets of Central City. Paulson plays Ellen, a physician with a serious crush on the Spirit - even though she knows he'll never stop eyeballing every leggy dame that sashays into view.
Maybe if there was something going with the dialogue - snappy Chandlerisms, say, or even just sentences that made sense - the fussy digital artifice of The Spirit wouldn't seem so, well, dispiriting.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.