1 item from 1997
An infernally frustrating brew of comic-book cliches and state-of-the-art visual effects, "Spawn" is impressive Eye Candy, but the ultrafrenetic New Line release is too dour and uneven to generate strong word-of-mouth and break out in this crowded summer.
From "RoboCop" to "Darkman" to "The Crow", dark fantasies about terribly wronged, usually horribly disfigured men returning from the dead to avenge themselves are popular with teens and young males. An animated "Spawn" series recently bowed on HBO, but this version is a slick, high-velocity spectacle that should do well in ancillary markets.
Lead Michael Jai White ("City of Industry", the star of HBO's "Tyson") is resoundingly upstaged by the makeup and "Spawn"'s visual style, but his physical presence is strong. He succeeds in making Todd McFarlane's comic-book character the center of debut director Mark Dippe's special-effects extravaganza.
Dippe, who worked at Industrial Light & Magic and directed a Grammy-nominated Herbie Hancock video, and ILM veteran Steve "Spaz" Williams employ computer-generated effects, animatronic creatures and a nifty morphing technique for transitions.
A movie complete with a chaotic underworld ruled by a horned devil and a tortured hero with a "living suit" that does amazing things, "Spawn" unfortunately lacks humanity.
Al Simmons (White), a government assassin, is betrayed by his megalomaniac boss (Martin Sheen) and seemingly snuffed out by the company's nasty new gunslinger (Melinda Clarke). After a short encounter with the devil and his minions floating on rock slabs over a burning lake, Al returns to Earth as Spawn, where he soon crosses paths with Clown (John Leguizamo), a gross confederate of the devil.
Spawn has been made "hell's general" and given the green light to take out Sheen's character, who just happens to have wired himself to explosive devices that will spread a killer plague around the world if anyone kills him. Spawn the pawn gets his revenge and the demon unleashes his hordes. Alas, it's never that simple.
When the film slows down to catch up with D.B. Sweeney and Theresa Randle -- as the hero's colleague and former wife, respectively -- the minimal characterizations are particularly unsatisfying. Veteran Nicol Williamson does a serviceable job as an enigmatic and ghostly ally, but it takes too long for him to make an impact in the story.
Unfortunately, too much of the central portion of the film is reserved for Leguizamo's only fitfully amusing Clown shtick. Reminiscent of "Beetlejuice" but a lot less fun, these scenes are remarkably lively given the elaborate makeup and costumes.
Spawn's friendship with a dog is briefly endearing, but it's back to explosive chases and battles in hell, while the none-too-gentle soundtrack features loud, aggressive tunes by the likes of Marilyn Manson ("Long Hard Road Out of Hell") and 808 State vs. Mansun ("Skin Up Pin Up").
The sights and sounds are superb throughout, with special makeup and animatronics by Robert Kurtzman, Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger and the animation supervised by ILM's Dennis Turner and the work of several effects houses, including ILM, Santa Barbara Studios and Banned From the Ranch Entertainment.
New Line Cinema
in association with Todd McFarlane Entertainment
A Dippe Goldman Williams production
Director Mark Dippe
Screenwriter Alan McElroy
Producer Clint Goldman
Executive producers Todd McFarlane,
Alan C. Blomquist
Director of photography Guillermo Navarro
Production designer Philip Harrison
Editor Michael Knue
Visual effects supervisor Steve "Spaz" Williams
Costume designer Dan Lester
Music Graeme Revell
Casting Mary Jo Slater, Bruce H. Newberg
Spawn/Al Simmons Michael Jai White
Clown John Leguizamo
Jason Wynn Martin Sheen
Cogliostro Nicol Williamson
Wanda Theresa Randle
Terry D.B. Sweeney
Jessica Priest Melinda Clarke
Running time -- 97 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 1997
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