Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Spawn: Director's Cut

3/4

Starring: Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, Martin Sheen, Nicol Williamson, Theresa Randle, D.B. Sweeney, Miko Hughes

Rated R for Violence and Crude Humor

"Spawn: Director's Cut" is a hit-and-miss affair, but at least it hits more often than it misses.  There are some big problems, like a ridiculous story that never finds the right tone and some cheesy special effects, but it has an intriguing premise and some nice performances.  And a villain that's a cross between Pennywise from "IT" and something from the Farrelly brothers.

Al Simmons (White) is a mercenary working for a man named Jason Wynn (Sheen).  What he doesn't know is that Wynn has, quite literally, made a deal with the devil.  You see, Heaven and Hell have been waging a war since time immemorial, and the Prince of Darkness (known as Maleboglia and voiced by veteran voice actor/special effects sound man Frank Welker) wants to launch a massive assault on the Pearly Gates.  To do that, he has his assistant, a raunchy blob of flesh named Clown (Leguizamo) get Wynn to create a virus that will wipe out the planet, thus giving the forces of Hell several billion more minions.  Good old Al figures out that Wynn makes Richard Fuld look like a Boy Scout and wants out.  Wynn betrays him and Al ends up in Hell.  Maleboglia offers him a deal: kill Wynn (Wynn has screwed him on their little pact) and he can have his wife Wanda (Randle) back.  Impulsively, he agrees.  But it's bad news if he goes through with it.

The performances are solid.  Michael Jai White brings intensity and a bit of dark humor to the role of the tragic Spawn, making him an effective anchor for the film.  Martin Sheen goes over-the-top in the scenery chewing department; he's not an especially convincing villain, although he gives it his best shot.  Theater legend Nicol Williamson, in his final film role (by choice...he died nearly fifteen years later), plays Cogliostro, the voice of conscience for Spawn.  He's walking through the role, but at least does an okay job.  The rest of the cast fills their roles nicely.

The real star of the show is John Leguizamo.  Totally unrecognizable in the fat suit and make-up, Leguizamo bites into the role of the foul-mouthed, raunchy clown.  He's rude, he's crude, he's corny, and he's proud of it.  Flatulence jokes, pop culture references, and an appearance that's simultaneously goofy and frightening, Clown is a truly warped creation.  Leguizamo succeeds because he has fun with the role while taking it seriously.  He goes over-the-top, but there's never a sense that the actor is in on the joke.  He fully disguises himself beneath the character and that's what sells it.

The special effects are inconsistent.  The more subtle ones, like the Spawn suit (the make-up for Al's hideously scarred face is superlative...whether it's CGI or make-up, I don't know, but it's very flexible and so detailed that I felt I could almost reach out and touch it) are convincing.  His red cape is especially gorgeous to look at.  The scenes in Hell are a different story.  They appear to have been made on an old Macintosh from the 90's, and look it.  It's clunky and cheap, and not in a good way.  I understand that the filmmakers got the final special effects shots two weeks before the film was released.  I believe it.  These scenes are a rush job, pure and simple.

Still, "Spawn" works for me.  If for nothing else, it's worth seeing for Leguizamo's deliriously weird performance.

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