“I’m on my way.”

For those of you who don’t know, Dick Tracy is a comic book detective known for his quick wit and fast trigger finger. Films that are comic book adaptations are abundant these days, but back and 1990 you really only had Batman and Superman. I think that part of the reason is that back then Hollywood actually came up with new ideas for movies and didn’t have to resort to sequels or adaptations. Today is a different world. Fan boys everywhere want their favorite story or comic book adapted for the big screen, and with $15 ticket prices Hollywood is happy to oblige. Therefore, back in 1990, Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy may seem like a little bit of an oddity at first glance. But it actually makes perfect sense. Two years prior, 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit was sucessful in showing that a live action and cartoons could exist in the same movie. Then 1989 saw Tim Burton’s Batman, which not only updated the caped crusader for the 1990’s, but also was a visual masterpiece of creating a unique world in which its characters lived that echoed the feel of the comic book. Dick Tracy’s most successful attribute is building on the artistic style that blends realism with comic style art.

From the opening scene of the movie, you know you’ve entered a different world. Gangsters and criminals are artistically rendered half way between cartoon characters and reality. Their exaggerated features and general demeanor related to their names give the movie a gritty and dark feel, perfect to match the comic. Meanwhile, the protagonists are sharply dressed, clean, and polished. This creates an instant visual contrast between good and bad that gives the movie its edge. Not to mention the fact that the entire movie is awash in bright primary colors, two-dimensional backdrops, and shading that literally paints a strong visual image. The film looks and feels like a comic book (some scenes more than others) and the characters are indeed in their own little world. Unfortunately, the story and acting (besides Al Pacino) does very little to add to the film’s visuals. This leaves you with a film that is exciting to look at, but the plot and characters are not on the same level. Seems like the same problem many adaptation movies have today….

Story: Dick Tracy is one of the best at his job. He is a detective, known for his total commitment, fast wit, and calm presence. Such personal attributes will be put to the test, when a gangster named Big Boy Capri decides that he wants to rule the city and no one will stand in his way, including Dick Tracy. As Big Boy Capri bullies and kills his way to take control, Dick Tracy is right on his tail. But all is not going well for Tracy when his relationship with his girlfriend is put in jeopardy due to his commitment to his job. Things are further complicated when the wife of a gangster and an important witness to a case, Breathless Mahoney, gets between them… Okay (17/25)

Acting: The star of this film is Al Pacino, who is perfectly over-the-top in his performance as Big Boy Capri. Besides the stunning visuals, this film is worth watching for his performance alone. Warren Beatty plays the titular character to mild sucess, you never get the feeling that he is as tough or gritty as he is supposed to be. It doesn’t help that he wears a goofy grin throughout. Madonna is largely emotionless as Breathless Mahoney, and the rest of the cast is also as flat, which includes Dustin Hoffman. Okay (17/25)

Direction: Warren Beatty also directs. Even if he doesn’t get the performance he needed out of his actors, he does manage to frame the movie well and makes the best use of its visual style. Some of the scenes are cut to be comic-book-like while others seem pretty straight forward, which makes the presentation a little confusing but nonetheless effective. Good (21/25)

Special Effects/X-Factor: This is where the movie really shines and is pretty much the entire reason this one is worth seeing. The film feels like it should be a Tim Burton movie, but has a tone that is more serious, gritty, and realistic that nearly matches the comic book. Even today, 20 years later, this film still looks fantastic. Good (24/25)

Rating: (79/100) = C+ (Average)

  • What’s Good: This film is a visual knockout, as it is an almost perfect interpretation of comic book style adapted for film, Al Pacino is just as strong in his performance, and the plot is at least intellegent.
  • What’s Bad: While it may look just like a comic book, the movie is not nearly as exciting. The story meanders its way throughout, and action scenes are few and far between. Also, the majority of the acting is not up to snuff.

Summary: Tries to be a literal interpretation of a comic book for the big screen, only matches the visuals.

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My previous review: Rated: Kick Ass (2010)

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