Dick Tracy (1990) Review

The comic strip detective finds his life vastly complicated when Breathless Mahoney makes advances towards him while he is trying to battle Big Boy Caprice’s united mob.-imdb

Dick Tracy is the comic-strip based action flick that attempts to throw a goofy flair to itself. The comic strip style is translated directly to this film through many technical marvels that make this film a unique piece to look at, but not necessarily one to watch. It’s all-star cast, over the top visuals and campy yet serious writing all give off the vibe of a similar adaptation: Batman and Robin. Yes it’s eerie how similar the flaws in these two movies line up, the first and foremost being the convoluted tone.

Dick Tracy takes the comic-strip origins literally… and at the same time comically. It makes fun of the cliches of the comic, or goes for over the top goofy, but then the next minute expects you to take it seriously with the visuals or even the story. They try their hardest to make the universe look real, using shots that are impossible to get without complex green screening or intricate models. The colors of the costumes, sets and lighting are all vibrant, and coupled with the Elfman music it’s quite epic. Prosthetics are applied to all the actors portraying bad guys in order to make them look like their strip counterparts, but instead of immersing you in the Tracy-verse, it instead instills disgust as they look utterly hideous. It takes a long time to get used to it, and even then you’re never comfortable with it. They must have known how ugly it looked, because otherwise Warren Beatty would have had a chiseled chin glued on to fit the role. The sets, the costumes, the colors, are all taken so literally, but they expect you to laugh at how the villains look, or laugh at how loony Dick Tracy’s hunches are? Now to be fair, this could have worked in a more Airplanesque way, where they play it straight all the time, but they don’t, instead pointing out what you should laugh at. I could go on with contrast after contrast, but I think only one more example needs to be given. Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy plays him straight. Not as an overly confident superhero or an overly gritty detective, but as an almost human version of Dick Tracy. I say almost because the only time he shows personality is when the plot (or rather subplots) demand it. This serious Tracy against rubber bad guys is… odd. Like a semi-serious Batman facing off against a pun-spewing austrian while wearing a rubber suit… oh wait.

So while the writers and directors can’t seem to decide on a tone, it seems they also can’t seem to decide on a plot. The film has so many different subplots and such an unfocused main plot that when you look back at what’s happened you ask “why?” Entire scenes just seem pointless, and if they were removed it would make about as much sense as the rest of this movie since there are so many plot holes and leaps of logic that one more won’t harm it.There seems to be so much going on in the main plot that needs to be fleshed out, but if it was it would be a trilogy of movies. It almost feels like several tv episodes smashed together, but despite this the film still on occasion will careen to a stop to focus on one of the ridiculously predictable subplots and then compensate the actual plot’s screentime with a shitty montage that is never put to the right music, even ironically. It should be noted that the events of one of these montages could take up half a Burton or Scorsese film, but Beaty needs to keep trucking along. After some researching I found this movie was in development for 15 years, and then once it got into filming it had it’s shooting script combined with the novelization to fix the plot holes. Imagine what the script was like beforehand.

Even if you actually bother to pay attention to the convoluted shit on screen, there’s no way you can care about it. The actors never pull off a portrayal that can convince you to actually care about them because the material is just not there. Even one of the more tragic characters, played by Madonna, comes off as just stoic for half of the film and then overly dramatic for the last half. It’s either overacting or underacting, there is no middle ground for anyone, with the exception of the diner guy. He was cool. The dialogue is not convincing, interesting, or even seem to have a point to it. They repeat things too much and some characters NEVER SHUT UP. They go on and on and on and you want to pull your ears off. Most of the characters have little motivation or just pull 180 flips when needed. The kid goes from being an obnoxious little shit to being the bestest sidekick ever. Madonna loves Tracy because…??? Tess loves Tracy because…??? If they were attempting to portray the rather stilted strip dialogue or rushed character interactions, then they fail to understand that film and comic strips are not the same medium. A straight adaptation of Dick Tracy doesn’t work the same way a straight adaptation of The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit and The Shining wouldn’t and doesn’t work.

Dick Tracy provides you with enough action and visual appeal to get you through it IF you can get past the dialogue, the characters, and the looooonnnnng ass plot that either moves too fast or too slow. But the odds of that are pretty slim. My recommendation is to instead go to your local library and check out The Complete Dick Tracy volumes. They feature both the weekly and sunday strips and can actually be quite entertaining. As for this movie, it can sit next to Batman and Robin as it’s more obnoxious, but definitely more beautiful cousin.