BY PATRICIA DRAZNIN
I watched this film with curiosity and awe. In the awe category, the movie’s stylized vision of old Manhattan is transporting, seductive, and, well, awesome. The soft outlines and muted sepia tones rewind us back to the 1930s. And the opening scenes in the newspaper office with reporter Polly Perkins in her vintage fashion create the familiar gumshoe setting that made me expect Humphrey Bogart to walk through the door. This computer-generated feast of nostalgia comes compliments of writer/director Kerry Conran, who spent years on his Macintosh generating a brief sequence of robotic giants invading Manhattan, which he later expanded into this feature-length film.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Polly Perkins, the feisty news reporter who will do anything to capture a story. And played by Jude Law, superhero Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan fearlessly defends Manhattan from the skies. I found Paltrow and Law enjoyable but a little too mild. Two people with stronger chemistry and more attitude would have beefed up the prospect of sweeping me away.
To describe Sky Captain’s complex story would take more words than the actual screenplay. Conran’s plot ricochets in surprising directions mirroring disparate themes of old classics, but leaving us struggling to recall the original premise. It also incorporates all of the essentials: the suave superhero with his sassy love interest and his super-tech sidekick, the mad scientist with his end-of-the-world machine with the large emergency button, and of course, the pencil-thin bridge across the infinite void that the hero must cross to save the world.
So here comes the curiosity question of why a potentially extraordinary film would resort to a trite script. The answer is that Sky Captain is a deliberate cliché attempting to make fun of itself and the genre. But it falls just short. Conran makes the mistake of flirting with parody instead of making a loud Mike Myers kind of statement, so the audience doesn’t know whether to laugh or take it seriously. With so much going for it, Sky Captain almost works. It just needs to take a bolder stand. Before the next installment, Conran should watch Austin Powers to see how it’s done.