"Dick Tracy" Review

15 July 1990

"Dick Tracy": As I remarked above, I actually broke down and saw this film. Some things about it were cute, others not so much.

One thing I think very overrated was the art direction. If this movie doesn't wind up having the "legs" its producers hoped for, it may be that return business is down due to eye fatigue. (The Roger Rabbit cartoon which precedes it, "Roller Coaster Rabbit," has infinitely more to enchant the eye.) The make-up, particularly for the bad guys, was all that it was made out to be. Flattop, who always seemed to me to be the most interesting of the Tracy villains, looked absolutely perfect. Too bad all he was given to do was grin and fire his tommy gun. Pruneface too; an article in some magazine said the "inspiration" for his look was Ronald Reagan. ... It's a joy to see Michael J. Pollard in anything, and you can also see Dick Van Dyke and Estelle Parsons in unusual roles. And then there's Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles; he does the most with what is essentially a large cameo role. Though I still would have preferred Brando.

Beatty isn't the great stone face some reviewers have claimed. On the contrary, I found his Tracy very subtle and effective (even if ... his face has gone all slack). I was most impressed by Glenne Headley as Tess Trueheart; she's not just the sweet, wimpy "good girl" her character might easily have been. Pacino steals the show, hands-down. (You talkin' to me?)

Then there's Madonna. Apart from her reading her lines as though she were reading them off of an orange (cf. Brando again), her annoyingly adenoidal and poorly-supported singing voice, her one-note characterization ("I'm sexy, look at me, don't you want me?"), and the little pot-belly and rolls of flab, she didn't hurt the movie as much as I might have feared. It's kind of appropriate that the first time we see her, she's hugging herself.

Danny Elfman's score starts out marvellously, trying to be Shostakovich and Herrmann with (dare I say it?) an arresting series of brass chords. I don't think it followed up on its initial promise. And I light a candle for Stephen Sondheim, who has had better days. But then, he has also had far better interpreters of his work.