"The Shadow", a big budget action-adventure, was the summer movie season's wild card. It's a movie of the sort that is usually drowned in hype, a la "Batman". But somehow this effects-laden movie managed to maintain a relatively low-profile and is only now being aggressively promoted. Peering into the minds of Universal Studios' movie executives with 20-20 hindsight, it's not hard to figure out why there was resistance to a grand advertising campaign. First, "The Shadow" isn't a contemporary figure; many of today's young moviegoers may not have even heard of him before. Second, it deals with Eastern culture, which has not often proven lucrative at the box office. And finally, those who witnessed the creation of the film doubtless know what I am about to tell you: "The Shadow" is a major disappointment.
Lamont Cranston was a brutal warlord in Tibet before being shown how to fight for good in a temple possessed of Eastern magic. Now a citizen of New York City during the early part of the 20th century, Lamont dawns the costume of his alter-ego, The Shadow, whenever people are in trouble. He has the power to "cloud men's minds", an ability identical in practice to the "Jedi mind trick" used in the "Star Wars" films. He also has the ability to disappear nearly completely, leaving only his shadow.
It just so happens that Lamont's evil counterpart, Shiwan Kahn (John Lone), the last descendent of Ghengis Khan, enjoys similar abilities. His desire is to conquer the earth and the first step towards this end is, for no obvious reason, to blow up the greater part of New York City with what would be the world's first atomic bomb. The Shadow uses his network of agents, who can identify one another with code words and glowing red rings, to track Shiwan to a place that he alone can see. It is there that the battle rages.
"The Shadow" is little more than a thinly disguised rip-off of "Batman". Nearly everything about that film has been shamelessly mimiced, right down to the playboy status of the main character and a strangely familiar knock-off of the Batcave. The set designers and costume makers have also borrowed heavily from the 1989 blockbuster, so much so that the filmmakers are lucky that they aren't looking down the business end of a hefty lawsuit.
I, for one, was really looking forward to "The Shadow", hoping that it might be an adventure along the lines of "Indiana Jones". Unfortunately, though, the film belies its pulp fiction ancestry early on with lines so corny its hard to believe the actors could utter them without breaking into a smirk. And that's just it. The film has no dialogue, only lines. Cute lines, serious lines, important lines, many of which don't actually mean anything and are completely interchangeable with one another.
The problem, as I see it, is that "The Shadow" takes itself way too seriously. At least Michael Keaton, as the Caped Crusader, knew when to lighten up. Alec Baldwin doesn't make much of an impression as the crime-fighter. But that's still more than can be said about co-star Penelope Ann Miller whose character is little more than the phrase "love interest" lit up in big neon letters.
Director Russell Mulcahy, whose credits include "Highlander" and "Ricochet", seems to know the form and mood that the movie should embody (perhaps from seeing "Batman" a few dozen times) but is clueless when it comes to making his film interesting and provocative. Tim Burton, he ain't. Mulcahy's philosophy seems to be that if the movie encounters a slow spot, its a good time to pile on the special effects. The visuals in the movie are quite good, but they are overused to the point of becoming tiresome. What's true about their use is also true about many other aspects of "The Shadow": the effort can be commended but the results can't.