With its comic-book colors and 1930s funny-page feel, the new DICK TRACY movie tries desperately to evoke the comic strip. Vintage photographs help create an eerie fantasy city of concrete and chrome, mansions and storefronts. Dollar bills have only a $ in the middle, whiskey bottles just say “whiskey,” and all the grills on the vintage cars are changed so no one will say, “Oh, look, that’s a Ford.” However, all these efforts fail due to the ironic film noir nihilism which saps the moral perspective that sustained the popular comic strip. The villains are quickly introduced: Big Boy Caprice, Mumbles, Itchy, Flattop, Ribs Mocca, 88 Keys, Pruneface, and Lips Manlis. With their prosthetic snouts, asymmetrical features, sagging skins, warped skulls, and hunch backs, they are particularly grotesque (and, may give little children grotestgue nightmares).
The film pits Detective Dick Tracy against Big Boy, who has wiped out Lips and consolidated the mobsters in order to take control of the city in an effort to extort the citizenry. Tracy gets an unlikely ally in the person of “Kid”, a young vagabond orphan whom he takes under his wing and who saves Tracy’s life more than once.
To bring in Big Boy, Tracy appeals to Breathless Mahoney, a come-hither nightclub singer in Big Boy’s swank Club Ritz, to testify. Breathless tries to lure Tracy from the straight and narrow and makes the resolute detective question his love for his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart.
Soon another villain appears, Blank, a mysterious, faceless character with an offer to rub out Tracy for Big Boy in exchange for 10% of his business. Tracy, meanwhile, who, unlike the comic strip hero, is not above stretching the rules when it comes to fighting crime, has bugged the Club Ritz. Knowing Big Boy’s operations ahead of time, Tracy begins cleaning up the city’s criminal element and the press praises him. However, when Tess disappears and Tracy goes looking for her, he is framed for the murder of the city’s crooked D.A. Now, the newspapers bark a different headline: “Dick Tracy arrested!”
Deducing that “the enemy of my enemy is my enemy,” Tracy thwarts Blank’s planned set-up and double cross of Big Boy. However, Big Boy escapes with Tess; so, in a movie-ending climax that mirrors the villain-tying-the-girl-to-the-railroad-tracks (only this one is inside the mechanisms of a giant clock), Tracy comes to the rescue.
To the movie’s credit, the music is operatic (reminiscent of BATMAN), and the scenes move quickly. The dialogue is short and terse and moves swiftly. Much of the conversation between Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) and Dick Tracy contains sexually offensive innuendoes (“I can show you some fun, and I don’t mean with the gun”) reminiscent of the provocative Mae West and suave but wary Cary Grant. However, Madonna, with her character vacillating between arrogance and self-pity, is no Mae West, whose worldly-wise tongue-in-cheek humor struck multiple chords of laughter deep in the viewer’s imagination. Scantily-clad in a see-through camisole, Madonna is sure to alienate parents with impressionable children. Furthermore, the deadpan Warren Beatty is no Cary Grant, who set sparks flying as the twinkle in his eyes almost betrayed his self-conscious decency. Beatty’s acting ability has not improved since the infamous flop ISHTAR; so, instead of carrying the movie, he is merely the central persona in a well constructed artifact.
The movie does, however, contain a few pro-family moments, and underscores the importance of role models in children’s lives. Kid especially touches the viewer’s heart in a couple of scenes where he emulates Dick Tracy. However, overall, DICK TRACY is a “dark” film, mainly because the villains dominate the action and the drama. Big Boy, particularly, is always screaming and shouting, ranting and raving. There is violence and gun play, but on the other hand absolutely no blood is shown. Older audiences will find the movie surprisingly tame as compared to its logical predecessor BATMAN, and even boring in spots. However, parents will want to exercise caution before taking their children to see this big budget film because of the frightening makeup on the criminals, the semi nudity and the distinct profanity uttered by the young urchin.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please address your comments to:
Mr. Michael Eisner
Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521
One profanity and one obscenity ("damn"); gunfire and violence (but no blood is shown); a see-through sexually provocative dress; and, sexual innuendoes.