tek's rating:

Dick Tracy (PG)
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There were a few ways I could have classified this movie. "Comic book" would probably be my second choice, because there's a somewhat cartoonish feel to the whole thing, and because there have been Dick Tracy comic books. But the character is originally and primarily associated with comic strips, starting in the 1930s. In fact, the character has been adapted into lots of different media, over the decades, but this movie is the only incarnation of the character with which I'm really familiar. (I suppose I must have been vaguely aware of the character before this movie came out in 1990, but I don't recall having actually read or seen or heard any actual stories.) I could call it a "period piece," except that I don't know exactly when it's set. (There are plenty of newspaper headlines in the movie, so maybe if I went to the trouble of freeze framing one, I could find out.) I could categorize it as "weird," because it's certainly that. But ultimately, I prefer to think of it as "film noir." Definitely an over-the-top, cartoonish, silly movie, but... it still has all the trappings of film noir, including gangsters, a ton of violence, a femme fatale, etc. And even if I find it somewhat funny, I can't really call it a comedy. Anyway... I'm not sure exactly when I first saw this. I think I must have seen it on VHS sometime in the early 90s, and then on DVD in 2015. I also had Madonna's companion album I'm Breathless (on cassette), which I hope I still have lying around somewhere, but I'm not sure. It has a few of her songs from the movie, as well as some songs that aren't in the movie. And I must say, I liked all of them. Oh yeah, and I think I probably had some trading cards.

Anyway, the movie begins with this street kid, who is just called "the Kid" (Charlie Korsmo), witnessing a mob hit, carried out by a couple of gangsters who work for Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino). The fact that the Kid witnesses this turns out to be of no importance whatsoever, and is never mentioned by anyone, which seems kind of odd, to me. But later, a hotshot plainclothes police detective named Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty, who also directed the movie) is on a date with his girlfriend, Tess Truehart (Glenne Headly). They're about to enter a diner they frequent, when the Kid runs out, having just stolen a pocket watch. Tracy gives chase, finds the Kid living with an abusive guardian, and decides the Kid will have to be sent to an orphanage, which the Kid desperately wants to avoid. So at first he doesn't trust Tracy, but throughout the movie they come to like and respect each other. And one can't help but think that Tracy, Tess, and the Kid would make a nice family.

Meanwhile, Big Boy forces another gangster, Lips Manlis, to sign over the deed to Club Ritz to him, then he kills Lips. There's a singer at the club, Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), who witnessed the murder, but she has to continue working in the club, with Big Boy as her new boss. Throughout the film, Tracy wants Breathless to testify against Big Boy, but all she really wants to do is seduce Tracy... who is in love with Tess, and pretty much as incorruptible in love as he is in his job as a cop. But while Breathless refuses to help him, he enacts other plans to wreck Big Boy's various criminal ventures. All the while, Big Boy refuses to let any of his people kill Tracy, knowing that he himself would be the prime suspect if Tracy died. But eventually he gets so fed up with Tracy's little victories against him that he changes his mind, and wants him dead, after all.

Well, lots of other things happen, and it's hard for me to keep it all straight. And lots of characters. There's the police chief (played by Charles Durning) and the D.A. (Dick Van Dyke). There's a piano player at Club Ritz called 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin), who I kept assuming would turn out to be a love interest for Breathless, but didn't. There were numerous gangsters I definitely couldn't keep straight, except for Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman) and Flattop. And then there's a mysterious figure called "No Face" or "The Blank," who apparently has no face (which puts me in mind of the DC comics character the Question). But he has plans of his own, to set up both Big Boy and Tracy for crimes they didn't commit. (Watching the movie this time, I knew his true identity, but I can't remember whether I guessed it the first time I saw the movie. It's hard to imagine I wouldn't have, because I think it's quite predictable.) And I guess I don't want to reveal any more of the plot.

So... it's all weird, and not entirely coherent. But it has cool visuals, including the color scheme of the wardrobe and pretty much everything (most notably Tracy's signature yellow coat and hat). And the prosthetic makeup for many of the characters, to make their faces look deformed. (This was mostly done with the gangsters, but I think I saw some deformed good guys, too. I could be wrong.) Incidentally, I find it surprising that anyone in the movie thinks a guy with no face is weird, because I really don't think he looked any weirder than any of the gangsters. I think the movie's unique visuals tend to be the one thing most critics liked about the movie, but there was plenty that I liked, in addition to that. As I said, I liked the music. And I found Tracy, Tess, and the Kid to all be likable, interesting characters, even if they weren't particularly complex. And Big Boy was an amusingly odd villain, even if he was totally unlikable. Breathless was also a character I found interesting but not really likable. And while the story didn't always make perfect sense, I found it quite entertaining, and sometimes even a bit touching. All in all, a fun movie that gets less respect than I think it deserves.


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