THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Thursday, July 7, 1994 TAG: 9407070042 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E5 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, ENTERTAINMENT WRITER LENGTH: Medium: 97 lines
``WHO KNOWS (pause, pause)? What evil (pause) l-l-luurks (pause) in the hearts of men?''
After another tension-filled pause, the answer arrives amid a burst of diabolical laughter: ``The SHADOW knows!''
The Shadow may know, but it's a secret lost in the convoluted and frantic plotting that mars the great-looking new movie based on the radio classic of 60 years ago. ``The Shadow'' is an art deco eye-dazzler that attempts, somewhat successfully, to copy both the dark mood of ``Batman'' and the garish colors of ``Dick Tracy.'' The production design of Joseph Nemec III, aided by imaginative photography and costume design, produce a visual standout complete with 1930s threads and neon lights reflecting off rain-swept streets.
If only looks were enough.
There has always been an inherrent problem in bringing ``The Shadow'' to the screen. It is, simply, that this veteran superhero's special power is in ``clouding men's minds.'' He can make the villains do his will and turn them against themselves. At times, he cannot be seen; only his shadow gives him away. It's a great idea for a radio show because it requires the listener's imagination to run wild.
But imagination is difficult to photograph. In its place, the new movie, starring Alec Baldwin as The Shadow and alter-ego millionaire Lamont Cranston, offers fast-moving mayhem. Baldwin is surprisingly good at suggesting a sly hint of fun, but the movie itself never manages to suggest tension. The result is a rushed and always-hysterical conglomeration of noise and movement.
The main problem in pulling for this hero may be that we are never quite sure if he is ever in any danger. We're not sure of his special powers or his few weaknesses. As a result, we are kept as occasionally awed onlookers.
The movies always had trouble with the character. Rod LaRocque was the first to play him, in 1937's ``The Shadow Strikes.'' It was not a hit. Victor Jory (who played the poor-white-trash carpetbagger who tried to steal Tara from Scarlett in ``Gone With the Wind'') had the role in a 15-chapter serial called ``The Shadow.'' Three B-budget versions from Monogram Pictures, ``The Shadow Returns,'' ``Behind the Mask'' and ``The Missing Lady,'' failed.
The problem was obvious. ``The Shadow'' was a dark messenger of vengeance who was scarier when not seen. In the present version, an almost unrecognizable Baldwin wears a dark cape, wide-brimmed hat pulled over one eye and a hawknose. He looks suspiciously like a mixture of Cyrano and Jimmy Durante on a bad-nose night. It's fun.
What is not as much fun is a messy plot that begins in Tibet with Baldwin's character introduced as the fiendish Ying Ko, a ruthless type with long fingernails and a yen to control the country's opium trade. He turns good after he's kidnapped by a holy man. He's taught how to cloud men's minds and to fight against the dark side of his own mind. This, in essence, is what was always so fascinating about The Shadow - he was a dark villain hiding inside a hero, fighting evil within himself.
Admittedly, this idea would be hard to dramatize, but the writer here, David Koepp, is more concerned with special effects.
Penelope Ann Miller, an actress who is always fun to watch, models backless dresses and slithers about as if she is Jessica Rabbit out looking for Welsh Rarebit. She plays Margo Lane, a girl who seems particularly dimwitted even though she can read minds.
The fine Shakespearean actor Ian McKellan plays her father, a scientist who is busy inventing what is probably the first atomic bomb. Peter Boyle, the character actor, is a taxi driver who is one of Cranston's allies. Jonathan Winters, whose very presence gets laughs, is Cranston's unwary uncle who thinks his nephew is a useless Manhattan playboy. Tim Curry works much too hard trying to be funny as a villainous sidekick.
John Lone has the over-the-top role of the resident villain Shiwan Kahn, the last descendant of Genghis Khan. Lone is apparently intent on stealing the show. If he didn't have quite so many scenes, he would have been more fun. He's rather tiresome. He does have lines, though, like ``My Mongolian warriors are not very bright, but they are loyal.''
Baldwin, after numerous bad career choices, has now apparently decided to enter the mainstream and become a commercial movie star. He comes across quite well here - adding to the scenery.
``The Shadow'' seeks to be another ``Batman.'' It is more likely to be another ``Doc Savage'' or ``Flash Gordon'' - both lackluster attempts to translate past pulp heroes into big-screen money. Russell Mulcahy had an eye more toward movement than involvement. ILLUSTRATION: Alec Baldwin plays Lamont Cranston and his alter ego in ``The
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Tim Curry,
Director: Russell Mulcahy
MPAA rating: PG-13 (cartoonish, but dark, violence and
Mal's rating: **1/2
Locations: Movies 10 in Chesapeake; Circle 6, Main Gate in
Norfolk; Lynnhaven 8, Pembroke in Virginia Beach