Dick Tracy (1990)
Directed by Warren Beatty

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty), an incorruptible police officer, having taken in a young street urchin known only as the Kid (Charlie Korsmo), initiates an investigation of a ruthless gangster, Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), who is trying to gain control of the criminal underworld in the city in which they live. Dick's ensuing struggles with Big Boy soon bring him into contact with a mysterious but sexy lounge singer, Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), who, he believes, can be of help to him. When this woman tries to seduce Dick, however, the cop's girlfriend, Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly), becomes jealous.

Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy is a flawed but visually astonishing and genuinely entertaining film. Unlike most movies derived from comics or graphic novels, which make use of characters and, perhaps, scenarios from their source material, but which discard their tone and appearance, Beatty's film has both the look and the feel of the original comic.

As a result, Dick Tracy is, from its first moment until its last, absolutely captivating visually. The sets, backdrops, and costumes are all dominated by bold, vibrant yellows, greens, reds, blues, purples, oranges, blacks, and whites so that the whole of the movie resembles the comic strip upon which it is based. The cityscapes before and in which the film's colorfully dressed heroes and gangsters live, which consist of obviously animated or otherwise artificial buildings tinted with rich greens and adorned with glowing yellow windows and multicolored signs, are particularly magical. The movie's world is, in truth, one of the most bewitching I have ever had the pleasure to see.

Even the film's weirdly but delightfully deformed villains are reminiscent of the persons who can be found in the comic. Thanks to the makeup that has been used to bring them to life, characters such as Pruneface, Flattop, Lips Manlis, and Little Face, each of whom is named for his bizarre appearance, are not only wonderfully unique and fun to watch, but they also help to draw the viewer into a distinct reality where men's hearts are given expression on their faces. Brutal thugs are thus hideous monstrosities. Decent men are handsome and dashing, and good women are lovely and smiling.

In fact, there is hardly an element of the movie that does not conjure up an exaggerated universe that has been divided between the gratuitously evil and the heroically good. The characters' clearly delineated personalities are repeatedly brought out by the often melodramatic lines they are made to speak, as well as by the outrageously vile deeds committed by Big Boy and his henchmen and the invariable honest and courageous acts performed by the protagonist. Even the devices used to film both Dick's fights and adventures and his foes' murders, schemes, and the like emphasize the righteousness and bravery of the former and the cruelty and baseness of the latter.

What is more, most of the performers skillfully contribute to Dick Tracy's deliciously overdone simplicity. Warren Beatty portrays the eponymous hero as a stereotypically rough and exemplary cop. Al Pacino is a cartoonish joy as the bulging, grotesque, and wildly nasty mob boss Big Boy Caprice. Madonna is effective as the sultry Breathless Mahoney, and Glenne Headly reveals the decency and loyalty of Dick's love interest, Tess Trueheart. Of all the actors, only Charlie Korsmo fails to acquit himself well.

The presence of his character, the Kid, really is the movie's single greatest weakness. He injects the film with an unnecessary, saccharine adorableness that is horribly annoying. Virtually every scene in which he appears consequently suffers from his presence. Had Beatty excised the character from his movie, he would have created a far more satisfying work.

Despite its occasional moment of sickeningly treacly cuteness, Dick Tracy is a fun, often enthralling, and always breathtaking film. It is one of only a handful of successful transferals of material from comics to the screen.

Review by Keith Allen

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