"I'm Not Batman"
Dick Tracy is an attempt to transfer an old comic book character to the big screen. The inspriation in 1990 must have been the enormous success of the Batman movie a few years beforehand. Batman was a success because of a a near perfect synergy between style and story elements that audiences related to. Batman was dark and brooding, with a storyline that, while somewhat campy, related to the danker side of human emotions. The original Dark Knight was a dubious, but engaging hero.
Taking Dick Tracy to the big screen in this climate certainly seems compelling. The comic is filled with larger than life folk, drawn both in figurative and literal broad strokes. The translation to the screen is fairly obvious: strong vibrant primary and secondary colors, all the trappings of a gritty 1940s city, and characters about as sterotyped as you can get.
Warren Beatty fills Tracy's yellow hat and trenchcoat, as well as serving as director of this film. His connections have populated the film with a huge arsenal of Hollywood talent. The bad guy is Al Pacino. The sultry songstress who threatens to lead Tracy astray is none other than Madonna. Bit parts include Dustin Hoffman, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, and Charles Durning.
More than half the cast is fitted with prosthetics of some sort or another, distorting their faces one disgusting way or another. I understand they're just reflecting the original comic here, but there's too much inside information the audience needs here. Okay, some people are deformed, other aren't. Seems like most of the deformed people are criminals? Is there a reason for that? The one thing about Batman is that, while the Joker, and even Batman himself, had unique appearances, they were very well explained and understood. They were too extremes fighting over the vast seas of ordinary people. The characters in Dick Tracy end up, while unique and maybe interesting, more ordinary in the overall scheme of things. This gets in the way of the story that the movie wants to tell.
There's a faceless person who hovers strongly over the last half of the movie, with uncertain loyalties and motivations. Anyone who bothers to think about it will figure out who this has to be.
I had the thought a few times that the only person who was acting in the movie was Al Pacino. It's not actually true, but the thought belies another problem with the film. The caricatures are simply too strong, and leaves no room for character. While that doesn't necessarily sink a film, Dick Tracy doesn't offer up anything to take its place. I suspect the plan was that the pure cleverness of the production design would fill that void. It's just not that clever.
While I'm not holding up Batman as the ultimate film, it serves as a suitable prototype for the genre that Dick Tracy is trying to fit into. There is an audience for this film, but it's a relatively narrow sliver of those children old enough to take the cartoony violence, but not yet so exposed to overused plot devices and stereotypes that they have become transparent.
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