Friday, March 14, 2008

Dick Tracy

The Action Mutant…
wonders where Joe Jitsu was in the film!

Dick Tracy

review by Joe Burrows

From first frame to last, the 1990 grand scale, comic book opus Dick Tracy all but screams "Look at me!" And why not? It is a film aesthetic wet dream, from its bold 2-D backdrops to its equally colorful costumes and intricate makeup for just about everyone in the film. There isn't one second of it that doesn't beg you to look at it with nothing more than eye widening awe. That's not so much a bad thing, since film is a predominately visual experience. It is a good thing for certain, since very little else is brought to the table that is what you would call "new".

The Plot, as it was:
The legendary detective is played by Warren Beatty (Isn't it time to come out of hiding from Town & Country yet?). Just like in the comics, Tracy fights crime and corruption with a hard nosed determination. The crime in the comics (and in the film) is represented by villains with enough cranial and facial deficiencies to make the Elephant Man blush. There's Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino), who has over sized lips fashionable for slurping oysters. There's Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong), who has overly wrinkled skin. There's Flattop (William Forsythe), whose head is...well, flat. And a menagerie of hideous faces who are introduced within the opening credits just to get bumped off! But the biggest ugly Tracy wants to nab is "Big Boy" Caprice (Al Pacino), who has the city by the balls and the mayor in his back pocket. If that wasn't enough for him, he has Caprice's blond vamp (Madonna) wanting to get in his pants and a smart mouthed orphan (Charlie Korsmo) and a dame with a heart of gold (Glenne Headly) to complicate things. And I haven't even mentioned the faceless baddie that frames him for murder! Oh wait, just did.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Yes, everything I just mentioned is fairly obvious, with even more clichés than that. And the marriage between film and consumerism has rarely been more apparent (i.e. I had most of the action figures from back in the day, except for the No Face one). Everything about the story is unapologetically old fashioned...which is pretty much the point. Dick Tracy is basically the same serial film fans got in the 1940s, only this time with souped-up visuals and a bigger name cast. Anyway, Beatty (who also directed...natch) plays Tracy suitably. Though not baring great resemblance to the fictional detective, he matches the stoic persona well. He comes off a little too wooden in some scenes but it's largely a non-issue. Behind Evita, this is probably Madonna's best work, which doesn't say much. She basically harlots it up as much as she can for a PG film. Her renditions of some Sondheim penned period tunes ("Sooner or Later (I always get my man)", "More" and "What Can You Lose?") are good but barely memorable. And Al Pacino, unrecognizable in makeup he designed himself, officially received his "Over the Top" certificate with this performance (meaning he hams it up with great efficiency, not that he is a grand arm wrestling champ). Dick Tracy is grand scale entertainment for all. It may not be the most original story or the best in high art but as far as popcorn fare goes, you could do much worse.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting (Overload!!!)!:
The cadre of big name actors Beatty commissioned to get slapped with 20 lbs. of makeup and act for basically a few minutes of screen time includes Dustin Hoffman (as Mumbles, who...look, I’m not explaining all of these names!), Ed O' Ross, Seymour Cassel, Charles Durning, Mandy Patinkin, James Tolkan, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, Catherine O' Hara, Henry Silva, James Caan, Michael J. Pollard and Mike Mazurki (a villain from the original Tracy serial in 1945). I guess Beatty and Burt Reynolds were having a competition for most guest stars or something. Turd Ferguson got owned here!

Body Count/Violence: 19. Most of it occurs by bloodless shooting (it is PG, after all), along with explosions and fistfights.

Sexuality/Nudity: None, though Madonna looks like she was poured into every dress she’s in here. She also seduces Tracy while wearing black lingerie, which explains one of the lines below.

Language/Dialogue: Clean, other than "Go suck an egg!" from that annoying Kid. Nearly every line Madonna spouts is an innuendo of sorts. Such howlers include “I’m wearing black underwear”, “I’m on the side I’m always on…mine!” and “I sweat a lot better in the dark”.

How bad was it?:
Despite all of the big names and such, the critics mostly maligned it as nothing more than commercial dreck. Not surprisingly, Ebert was one of the film’s lone champions in giving it the full **** treatment.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
The film was #1 in America for 2 straight weekends, pulling in $39 million for Touchstone in those two weeks (starting 6/15/90). It managed to stay in the top 10 until the end of July, ending it’s run in the first weekend of August with $103 million (off of a $47 million budget).

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: ****/*****

Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.

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