Directed by Mark Dippé. Starring Martin Sheen, John Leguizamo, Michael Jai White, D.b. Sweeney, Theresa Randle, Miko Hughes, Nicol Williamson. (1997, PG-13, 93 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 1, 1997
Is there anything Todd McFarlane can't do? Since introducing his Spawn comic book character in 1992, McFarlane's nightmarish superhero from hell has branched out into a wildly successful, adult-themed HBO animated series and some really, really cool collectible action figures. And now, Spawn -- the movie. McFarlane may be the Rupert Murdoch of comic book masterminds, marketing his immensely profitable dream one media niche at a time, but he stumbles with this cinematic adaptation. It's all one big blur: sound, fury, and Martin Sheen devouring scenery as if it were going out of style (and in Spawn, it's definitely not). White plays Al Simmons, a government assassin who, when his shady boss Jason Wynn (Sheen) pushes him into One Last Mission, develops a conscience about 30 seconds too late. That mission results in the entirely expected double-crossing of Simmons by Wynn, which is quickly followed by Simmons' death, his descent into a crazed CGI hell (courtesy of LucasFilm's Industrial Light & Magic), and his resurrection as a vengeful, all-powerful demon -- the Spawn. Mentored by Excalibur's Williamson as the wise Cogliostro, Spawn opts to fight the good fight and takes off after his nemesis Clown (played by a thoroughly unrecognizable Leguizamo in the film's only solid role), an evil Gacy-type who expects Spawn to help him win an upcoming battle against Heaven's armies. For his part, Spawn is far more interested in reuniting with his wife (Randle) and turning Wynn into so much shish-kebob. Very interesting to look at, Spawn lacks the requisite backstory to make this anything more than an overblown Saturday-matinee freak show, but assuming that the mean age of the film's target audience is 14, that shouldn't affect its impending blockbuster status all that much. Fans of the Spawn comic will be thrilled, I think, to see their hellborn hero on the big screen, backed, as he is, by the cacophonous strains of Marilyn Manson, Henry Rollins, and many, many digitally enhanced fireballs. Those expecting the more nuanced set design and overall romance of Alex Proyas' lushly romantic and darkly violent The Crow will be sadly disappointed: Spawn lacks that film's pointed morality and haunting lyricism. Director Dippé instead drenches his palette in a shroud of bombast so thick you could bottle it and sell it as driveway sealant. Everything here, from the opening titles to the closing credits (themselves liberally filched from Seven), is too much. Restraint, it appears, is a concept Dippé and his crew have yet to fathom, and by the time Spawn's final mushroom-cloud explosion curls lazily back around itself, the urge to gobble a fistful of Tylenol is all but unavoidable.