The Shadow (1994)
The Shadow (1994)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: July 1st, 1994 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Russell Mulcahy Actors: Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters, Andre Gregory

 


 

I

n an opium den amid a poppy field in Tibet, Li Peng (James Hong) is dragged before the most brutal, notorious drug dealer in Asia: Yin-Ko, the Butcher of Lhasa (Alec Baldwin). Cackling at the competition’s insignificance, Yin-Ko unceremoniously executes Peng, having accused him of rivalrous murder. During the night, in preternatural retribution, the Butcher himself is abducted and brought before a priest, known as the Tulku (Brady Tsurutani), where he’s given a chance at redemption: to learn the ways of righteousness, in order to bring to justice the evils that surround him. And nowhere is more vile than Yin-Ko’s homeland – New York City – where he was formerly known as Lamont Cranston.

Seven years later, in New York, mob boss Duke (John Kapelos) is about to toss a poor witness into the river (wearing cement shoes). But a maniacally-laughing figure, appearing as little more than a wispy silhouette, as if shrouded by an invisibility cloak, disrupts the attempted murder, forcing Duke to turn himself in to the authorities – through sheer terror. As this mysterious vigilante, known around town as “The Shadow,” works to wipe the rampant crime from the streets, he recruits those he saves, building a network of helpers who must report to him whenever he needs their services.

Like Batman, Lamont also makes appearances in the daytime as a wealthy, lazy playboy, who frequents the Cobalt Club, where the likes of sultry yet fashionable blonde Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller) dines, sipping very fine wine (and reading people’s thoughts). In fact, it’s so much like Batman that the whole premise immediately feels derivative. For a bit of a twist, The Shadow is something of a rogue, not always behaving like an upright superhero. His continual laughing (perhaps like the Joker) seems to suggest that he’s permanently high on his own opium. And the setting and costumes tend to borrow from “Dick Tracy,” right alongside the protagonist’s use of a hawklike nose prosthetic and bushy eyebrows to mask his appearance.

“Am I in hell?” Cranston isn’t quite there yet, despite some very silly computer graphics (particularly when it comes to a sentient dagger) that would suggest he’s in some otherworldly, purgatory-like plane. Curiously, he’s actually in a noirish, prohibition-era, gangster-laden world, where his choice of dual handguns, a wide-brimmed fedora, and a flowing black cape and coat fit quite nicely. But his primary nemesis arrives in the form of a ghostly descendant of Genghis Khan – which, sadly, is the last thing the film needs. If it wasn’t difficult enough to get into the endeavors of a raving, supernatural crimefighter, utilizing a glowing ruby ring (instead of a batsignal or a wrist radio) and a hilariously impractical network of letter-carrying chutes (he’s clearly not a hi-tech hero), it’s even more problematic to accept the nonsensical lunacy of an ancient barbarian, decked out in armor and furs, hypnotizing people into doing his bidding. It’s a striking deviation from the earthbound characters and topics seen in the original source materials – pulp novels, detective magazines, and radio dramas dating back to the ’30s. It gets even sillier when Khan takes control of a scientist (Ian McKellen) to manufacture an atomic bomb (and during every second Tim Curry, as a corrupt government stooge, is onscreen).

Additionally, a substantial amount of comic relief finds its way into the happenings, making everything (from the sense of adventure to the light romance) just that much more ridiculous. Baldwin can’t manage to deliver his lines (or even form facial expressions) without looking and sounding insincere; Khan and The Shadow joke with one another, specifically for humor; and Cranston even spouts cheesy one-liners when he dispatches enemies. At least Jerry Goldsmith’s music is dependably momentous, and a handful of action sequences provide fleeting amusement (due to their goofiness rather than their excitement). For the most part, however, “The Shadow” is simply boring.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10