I remember back then when this movie was released. There was hype everywhere: promotions, and shirts, hats, comics, and even those radio wristwatches on sale. I even watched the “Making of” documentary on TNT. I missed the film during its theatrical run largely because I didn’t new any theater nearby where I lived, but that didn’t mattered to me at first. I never got to see it until two years later when under the influence of something –I guess the hype–, I told my mother (rest in peace) who was living back in California to buy the film and send it to me. She did, and I loved the movie, and I watched over and over and over, until I got tired of it. I guess I liked it because of the comic-style aspect of the film, and also because of Madonna’s beauty (I won’t deny it, she was hot). It has been 9 years since I’ve seen it, so today, with nothing to do, decided to give it another look after such a long time. Alas, it didn’t leave the same impression it did on me all those years ago. Not that it was a bad movie; far from it, it was actually a pretty good movie, very well crafted technically, but there was something lacking.The mysterious bump off of top mob guy Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino) and several key members of his gang incites Detective Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) to immediately place the blame on mob rival Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino). He knows by instinct that he was the one that did it, so he could take over Manlis’s spot and become the new ruler of the city. There’s only one problem: He can’t prove it. So far his only hope is femme fatale (and Marilyn Monroe wannabe or “tip-of-hat”) Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) since according to a piece of evidence he found, it seems that she was present at the time Lips was murdered. But Breathless lusts for Tracy and is willing to testify only if Tracy gives into her (start laughing by now), even though Tracy is already engaged and proposing to his true love, Tess Trueheart (a great looking Glenne Headly). Tracy then needs to look for other alternatives and clues to try and bring Big Boy behind bars, while his unlikely sidekick, known as The Kid (Charlie Korsmo), whom Tracy picked up in a poor shack, weaves his way through. Unbeknownst to him, another sinister character known as The Blank (guess who?), also sets up a revenge against Big Boy.
"Technically Sound, but Ultimately Flawed"
I mentioned there was something lacking. Well lets see, the package is big and pretty, and we have a few really good performances, a shitload of cameos, nice action sequences, but it seems that Warren Beatty –whom I respect for films like Reds, Bonnie And Clyde, Heaven Can Wait, Bugsy and Bulworth– forgot something important: A coherent plot. Most of the plotline muddles along and it has a strange, corny feeling to it. The script, written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. (Top Gun) seems so off-key in certain parts of the film, notably Tracy’s attempted gamble on arresting Big Boy before certain evidence would prove otherwise, and also Tracy’s forced “affair” with Breathless, which is unquestionably absurd and ridiculous. But mostly also what also annoys me is the huge amounts of one-liners in the script, which half of them sound really stupid, and once again, most notably Breathless’s lines. Also, Tracy’s true love, Tess, is a badly underdeveloped character and left a lot to be desired, especially in the scene where he confesses to Tracy her dislike for violence. Those particular scenes are pretty much half-baked and end up giving out the wrong emotions. But the biggest annoyance is on the whole on the script, since it works more like some dumb formulaic action movie in which for the look of it, the only thing they did was just change all the original character names and paste the Dick Tracy Comic Strip characters over them. Of course, you’re going to say that this film is pretty much a comic strip type of movie, and you should expect too much out of it. Sure, I’m aware of it, since at least the main purpose of any movie is just to entertain, but seriously, the film fails to give it’s fullest thanks to a few annoying moments and other wild and stupid coincidences. Had they done a few rewrites here and there, it would’ve helped the film run more smoothly.
Pretty much the majority of the standouts are centered amongst the technical department. Once again, Beatty and his cinematographer Vittorio Sotaro produce miracles to make the movie look reminiscent of a Sunday-paper “comic strip” look. To achieve this, Beatty and Sotaro decided to shoot the movie in seven primary and secondary colors, controlling the color by using Matte paintings (painted backdrops) behind the live action. The resulting effect is impressive, and the colors were carefully thought out so that each set of colors would fit between the good guys (lighter colors) and the bad guys (darker colors). They also symbolically represent the inside of our subconscious, good and evil, which is pretty clever. This, along with the set decorations makes for some accurate depictions of the comic strip world that is Dick Tracy, even though at times is too overwhelming. Another impressive stand out is the grotesque make-up that dominates most of the facial contours of the bad guys, with most of their names coming from their deformities. It’s quite an interesting sight to see. Another small problem though, is the over excessive use of music in certain scenes. Stephen Sondheim’s musical score is pretty good, but unfortunately some of the music, mostly the “heroic” tunes are so overused in many scenes where gentler music or no music alone would’ve been a better choice, and it tended sometimes to really annoy me. Beatty’s direction is on average, he did quite a great job on a few aspects, but left a lot to be desired in several others.
The performances are all right. Beatty is on autopilot for most of the time but still gives out a fairly good depiction of Dick Tracy. Glenne Eadly is also fair in her role of Tess. Madonna is pretty much miscast, not surprising, and her wannabe imitation of Marilyn Monroe falls pretty short, and is nothing but strict titillation (you want more of that, then rent Body Of Evidence or any other porn flick). But the man who steals the show is no one else but Al Pacino, as he “hams it up” as Big Boy Caprice, and he seems to enjoy it. It was quite a hilarious and amusing performance that I also enjoyed too, and his Academy Award Nomination was well deserved. The rest of the standouts are also fair, and I was quite surprised at the amount of cameos everywhere in the film, among them Paul Sorvino, Henry Silva, RG Armstrong, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, Dick Van Dyke, and Estelle Parsons, all hidden under almost unrecognizable makeup.In the end, if you’re a diehard Dick Tracy fanatic then this film is for you. If you’re a fan of comic strip movies like Batman or Spawn, then this movie is for you. Otherwise this film belongs in the “watch at your own risk” basket. I could recommend it for it’s technical standouts, otherwise there’s nothing new here.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=882&reviewer=235
originally posted: 12/17/02 14:14:16