The first of many times I came close to walking out of Spawn came right near the beginning. The good guy (actually not-so-good guy), a government assassin who wants to retire, has been set up by his diabolical boss. Just before the boss torches the hero, we get the following exchange:
Hero: “If you touch my wife, you’re a dead man.”
Bad guy: “You’re the dead man.”
What are we, in kindergarten? Now, I have nothing against shitheaded dialogue if it’s funny and delivered with a deadpan wink — if the filmmakers looked at the script and said, “This sucks; let’s have some fun with it.” A recent example is Jon Voight’s immortal line in Anaconda: “I am not the bad guy. I did not eat the captain.” But Spawn, a wannabe hybrid of Batman and Darkman and The Crow, is too grim and vengeful to laugh at itself. Besides, there’s too much at stake — all those ugly action figures to sell. What’s worse, its attempts at intentional humor (mostly fart jokes) fall utterly flat.
The aforementioned hero (Michael Jai White, who played Mike Tyson in an HBO biopic) goes to Hell and turns into Spawn, an undead avenger who would be nowhere without his snazzy computer-animated costume — it’s like the Batmobile with toes. His mission is to get revenge on his boss Dr. Evil — er, I mean Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen) — and his La Femme Nikita babe henchwoman Jessica Priest (Melinda Clarke, who in another life — and under another name, Mindy Clarke — was the zombie babe in Return of the Living Dead 3). He receives instructions from two opposing gurus: a waddling, loathsome little troll called Clown (John Leguizamo, trying too hard to steal the movie) and a wise, mysterious Ben Kenobi clone named Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson, distracting himself with thoughts of his paycheck).
The chief ineptitude of Spawn is that it doesn’t seem to know what audience it’s aiming at. Is it going after the kids who read the comic book and play with the toys? Is it for the 15-to-25 demographic who watched the “mature” Spawn animated series on HBO? If it’s meant to snare the uninitiated, I must say it failed to hook me. If it’s simply a fan’s movie, I’ve heard Spawn-heads yawn and recommend the film for its computer effects — not quite a ringing endorsement. In the end, Spawn is too juvenile for those who loved The Crow and too dark and violent for kids who would actually laugh at the fart jokes.
Spawn creator Todd McFarlane sat on this sacred turkey for a while before giving it to rookie director Mark Dippé, a former ILM wizard who worked on Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. Too bad he didn’t learn from those films, which seamlessly integrated their amazing computer effects with the live action. Here, Dippé brings the movie to a dead stop every few minutes so we can look at some more computer animation, which looks exactly like what it is: computer animation. The movie’s vision of Hell, too, is depressingly cheesy.
Spawn isn’t even a good demo tape for computer animation, and if you don’t enjoy the effects, you start squinting at your watch. That is, when you aren’t squinting at the screen. The movie is consistently underlit and edited with a Cuisinart — it’s worse than Batman and Robin. Will someone tell these hot-shot directors that we occasionally like to see what’s going on? Just a suggestion.