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Dick Tracy (1990)

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Score: 8/10

Genre: Gangster Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: June 15th, 1990 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Warren Beatty Actors: Warren Beatty, Charlie Korsmo, Glenne Headly, Al Pacino, William Forsythe, Charles Durning, Madonna, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, James Caan, Michael J. Pollard

D

etective Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) cleans up the vermin-ridden streets of his city as a “Dirty Harry”-styled cop, crossing a few boundaries when necessary to nab a crook. Plagued by Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) and his band of ruthless gangsters, who always manage to slip through the cracks of the law, Tracy strives to put the notorious mastermind behind bars for his gambling rings, murders, and kidnappings. But when Caprice rubs out oyster-loving rival Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino) and takes over his territory, Tracy must further battle an expanding network of hoods, corrupt politicians, frequent bribery, forgery, a frame-up, sultry seductress Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), his patient girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly), and a street-smart kid (Charlie Korsmo) to keep things in order. But it’s all in a day’s work for the untouchable, unbeatable flatfoot.

The character designs are simply phenomenal, with many popular faces (and great mobster monikers) brought to three-dimensional life, including Little Face, The Brow, Mumbles, Pruneface, Flattop, Influence, and more, all gloriously done up in impossibly vivid suits and considerable prosthetics and makeup. And beneath the disguises are instantly recognizable actors, including Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Henry Silva, James Caan, and William Forsythe. Award-worthy art direction and set decoration also supplement the wild personas, notably influencing the surreal designs seen in Robert Rodriguez’ “Sin City” (2005), the striking imagery of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), and certainly Joel Schumacher’s takes on Batman in the ‘90s. The artists, paired with Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, impart a stimulating color scheme and a flair for imaginative compositions, featuring faraway aerial shots that feast on lusciously silhouetted buildings and streets, and cityscapes illuminated by eerie glows and bold outlines. The look of the film is something of a cross between Tim Burton’s gothic styles and Wes Anderson’s infatuation with rich, picturesque shots.

“Dick Tracy” is Warren Beatty’s own version of “Batman” (1989), complete with superhero-like action montages, and newspaper headlines overlaid with Steven Sondheim’s songs and Danny Elfman’s catchy theme music. At one point, Tracy even crashes through a glass sky roof in a stunt that is nearly identical to one seen in the aforementioned movie from a year earlier. And Al Pacino’s role as Big Boy can easily be compared to Jack Nicholson’s outlandish performance as the Joker, both playing idiosyncratic psychos seeking citywide domination. Here, Prince’s lingering soundtrack from “Batman” is replaced by Madonna’s seductive voice as she continually sings tunes (a few of which slow the pacing) either onstage at the nightclub or in an omniscient background state as scenes overlap.

An exciting and humorous adventure film that appears to be ripped straight out of the pages of a graphic novel, “Dick Tracy” is not only one of the most visually authentic adaptations of a comic strip but also a solidly entertaining picture. Candy-colored costumes, Oscar-winning makeup effects, and enough innocent charm to sneak into the family-friendly PG realm (though just barely, as it’s a Touchstone Pictures release, distributed less evidently by Disney) headline this unforgettable vision of monstrously disfigured antagonists and sharply suited heroes. Best of all, it’s a fun-filled actioner for fans of the famous Chester Gould characters and general audiences alike.

– Mike Massie

 



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