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The Shadow Reviews

THE SHADOW is a mega-budget homage to a pulp hero of the 1930s, best known from the radio series in which a young Orson Welles intoned the famous lines, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows." THE SHADOW is polished to a high surface gloss, but nothing lurks beneath; nothing at all. In a prologue, we meet Yin Po (Alec Baldwin), the butcher of Lhasa, a white man who's forged a reputation as the wickedest killer on the steppes. He's humbled by a Tibetan spiritual master, Tulku (Brady Tsuritani), who first breaks Yin Po's vicious spirit, then teaches him the secret ways. Flash forward to swank New York City, circa 1930, where Yin Po--in his new incarnation, as wealthy playboy Lamont Cranston--is the toast of sophisticated society. He sets his sights on conquering lovely Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), but is soon called upon to attend to the fate of the world. Mad Shiwan Khan (John Lone), a descendant of Genghis Khan, has had himself shipped to New York in an elaborate silver mummy case, from which he emerges to wreak havoc. Khan intends to rule the world, and the only person who can stop him is Cranston's alter ego, the mysterious Shadow, whom most people regard as a fanciful children's story. The key to Khan's plan is Margo's father (Ian McKellen), an absent-minded professor working for the military whose research has resulted in the development of a terrible new weapon, an atomic bomb; his power-mad assistant (Tim Curry) is in cahoots with Khan, who has set up headquarters in a vast hotel, which he's rendered invisible by means of mass hypnosis. After a series of confrontations between Khan and The Shadow, who do battle both physically and by way of their mental powers, the film concludes with a race against time. The bomb is armed and set to detonate, and The Shadow must kill Khan and defuse the weapon before it reduces New York to a heap of irradiated ashes. He succeeds, and lives to fight another day. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, who is known for his great visual flair (on display in RAZORBACK, HIGHLANDER, and other films), THE SHADOW is a fabulously good-looking movie. A stylized, Art Deco version of Manhattan is lovingly created in a series of expertly photographed sets and matte paintings, and the cast is dressed in a fabulous collection of shimmering gowns and sharp suits. Penelope Ann Miller's Margo is a particularly splendid vision in bias-cut gowns and marcelled hair, and Alec Baldwin is the perfect embodiment of the dark, sleek 1930s hero. What THE SHADOW lacks is substance of any kind. Screenwriter David Koepp, whose credits include THE PAPER, CARLITO'S WAY and JURASSIC PARK, has retained all the accessories of The Shadow's pulp persona: the secret passageways, the swishing cape, the hidden labs, the special rings that distinguish an army of regular joes--from taxi drivers to chemists--who owe The Shadow favors and are bound to respond when clandestine duty calls, and, of course, that trademark deep, dark laugh. But it's hard to imagine that this Shadow knows what secrets lurk in the hearts of men, because THE SHADOW takes place in a world without secrets. The good are very, very good and the wicked are as wicked as can be, a moral scheme that is faithful to the form of early pulp fiction, but not to its spirit. The period charm of, say, the silent Fantomas serials (which appear to have been a powerful influence on THE SHADOWS's vintage gadgetry) appeals to die hard movie buffs and nostalgia nuts, but the films don't grab mass audiences the way they originally did. It's always wise to remember that creaky old horror movies and thrillers weren't quaint when they were new; they were mass entertainment governed by the conventions of the day. People found them thrilling and scary; if a new audience is to be properly introduced to the allure of classic pulp, it needs to be updated so that it's thrilling and scary by current standards, much as Tim Burton did in BATMAN. Today, a purportedly powerful crime-fighter being whisked around in a big old taxi cab or surveying the city on an old-fashioned TV screen no longer strikes the right note. The Shadow, a mysterious urban crime-fighter to whom Batman owes a considerable debt, is certainly ripe for rethinking. But THE SHADOW is the worst kind of homage, recreating childhood enthusiasms in a manner so clunky and unsophisticated that it's actively off-putting, while entirely missing their essence. (Violence.)