Dick Tracy

CIN Dick Tracy by krin.jpg

Date Aired
November 23rd, 2014
Running Time
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(For Doug Walker's opinion of the film, see here.)

Todd: Look...

Picture of Madonna with Sean Penn, clip of Shanghai Surprise, black-and-white pic of the two, and headshot of Sean while "Live to Tell" plays in the background.

Todd (VO): ...Sean Penn and Madonna never made any sense, not now, not at the time. Even ignoring all the fights and craziness, they just didn't match. Sure, Sean Penn was a young, hot, extremely talented and successful A-list actor. But at the end of the day,...

Todd: ...still just an actor. Madonna needed a movie star.

Clip from Warren Beatty film
Warren: Miss me?
Clips from Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo, Time Magazine cover, picture and People Magazine cover of Warren and Madonna, et al

Todd (VO); Enter the next man in her life, one Warren Beatty. Alongside Robert Redford, probably the last scion of the Hollywood Golden Age. Warren Beatty probably thinks the song "You're So Vain" is about him, and he is probably right. Clearly, he was a better fit for Madonna than Sean, even though he was, like, seventy years older than her. And what with now being part of a glamorous Hollywood power couple this big, clearly it was time for Madonna to take the step back into big-budget filmmaking. [Clips of...] And this would be the biggest one yet. A heavily marketed, summer blockbuster, comic book movie; a big screen version of the legendary pulp action hero Dick Tracy. I was too young to go see it at the time, and I still remember it being everywhere. [Promo footage] Dick Tracy commercials, t-shirts, soundtracks, toys, video games. It was a full-blown media phenomenon.

Todd: And a year later, no one would even remember it existed. [Todd shrugs]

Cinemadonna intro
Movie begins

Todd (VO): Dick Tracy—the overhyped, underperforming summer movie of 1990; the Roland Emmerich Godzilla of its day. But ignoring the box office disappointment, what is this Dick Tracy movie?

Todd: Well basically, [promo pic of...] it's Sin City...but for little kids. The end.

Closing tag song: Ice-T - "Dick Tracy"

"Dick Tracy" is owned by Touchstone Pictures
This video is owned by me

Todd: Okay, maybe I should try and explain it a little more.

Todd (VO): Obviously, Sin City hadn't come out yet, but Dick Tracy is still extremely derivative. You can see the fingerprints of other big films all over it. [Clips of...] First off, there's a lot of The Untouchables in this—square-jawed, trench-coated law enforcer versus powerful Italian mob boss.

Todd: But much more than that...

Todd (VO): ...you can see tons of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The sets and settings are really similar, I keep expecting Tracy to pull out a box of portable holes, and Madonna's character, Breathless Mahoney, is basically a live-action Jessica Rabbit.

Breathless: You're right, Tracy. Why would you get mixed up with me? I'm a cheap floozy to you.

Todd (VO): I'm not bad, I'm just...not sure what my character motivations are.

Todd: But more than anything, the movie Dick Tracy wants to be...

Clips illustrating examples from...

Todd (VO): ...Batman. Almost every single plot element is stolen from it. Comic book hero, expansive neo-gothic cartoon city, obtrusive pop singer soundtrack, grotesque villain played by famous overactor hamming it up to near unfathomable levels. Here, let's compare.

"Big Boy" Caprice (Al Pacino): We will own this town.
Spuds (James Caan): Why you?
I'll take my chances alone.
Big Boy: Let him go, let him go. It's still a free country.
Pat (James Keane): Tracy, the chief'll...
[Spuds' car explodes]
Pat and Sam Catchem (Seymour Cassell): Great scott!

Todd: Yeah, that doesn't look familiar.

Clip from Batman
Rotelli (Edwin Craig): What if we say no?
Joker (Jack Nicholson): We'll just shake hands and that'll be it.
[Rotelli is charred to a crisp after shaking hands with the Joker's joy buzzer]

Todd (VO): Hell, they even bring in Danny Elfman to do the score. Here, listen. [The score blares as Dick Tracy grabs his gun, badge, and two-way wristwatch] Yeah, here's my impression of Danny Elfman composing the Dick Tracy theme.

Todd taps his pencil on the piano, showing that he is looking at the sheet music for the Batman theme. Todd writes one little note, erases another, then...

Todd: Whoo! I am done writing!

Todd (VO): But yeah, there are worse things than being derivative, and those are all excellent movies to steal from. But still, it just disappointed all around. And even while much bigger flops like The Rocketeer have become much more beloved in hindsight, no one really brings up Dick Tracy anymore, and for good reason. If you remember this movie being any good, I hate to break it to you, but your memories are...

Todd: ...a lying son-of-a-bitch. It stinks.

Todd (VO): Warren Beatty had never starred in a big, mainstream, summer action movie before, let alone directed one. He has no idea how to handle it, and the result is as driftless and confused as a big-budget blockbuster gets.

Dick Tracy: Take the bad men away. They scare me.

Todd (VO): One of the biggest problems is that Dick Tracy just isn't an interesting character.

Kid (Charlie Korsmo): You know, Tracy, for a tough guy, you do a lot of pansy things.
Montage of covers and panels of original Dick Tracy

Todd (VO): Now, Dick Tracy first got big in the '30s because it was one of the first comic strips with action and violence and stuff, plus it had a cavalcade of fascinatingly hideous bad guys, which is about the only thing the movie gets right. Like, the makeup work is excellent; no one's gonna deny that. But Tracy himself? He's got a raincoat and a watch. No one cares about him, and Beatty certainly doesn't put much effort into making him a compelling character.

Going back to Batman, remember how that movie introduced the Caped Crusader?

Batman (Michael Keaton): I'm Batman.

Todd (VO): Awesome, right? Everyone remembers that. Look at the equivalent scene from Dick Tracy.

Bug (Michael J. Pollard): [over watch] Tracy, get over here right away.
Dick Tracy: I'm on my way.
[Cut to Tracy arriving at the scene, where "EAT LEAD TRACY" is written on the wall. Cut to Tracy returning to the show.]
Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly): Everything all right, Tracy?
Dick Tracy: Fine, fine, just a little trouble downtown.

Todd (VO): [as old-timey narrator] Thrill as fearless crimefighter Dick Tracy skips out on a date, looks at a thing, then makes it back to the theatre in time for the third act! Nonstop action, viewers!

Well, okay, the hero may be boring, but Dick Tracy always had great villains, and Beatty assembles a murderers' row of talent: Dustin Hoffman, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Sorvino, Mandy Patinkin. And while they're all pretty good, they are all overshadowed by Al Pacino as the head gangster Big Boy Caprice.

Big Boy: I want 'em dead, both of them! I want this No-Face dead, and I want Tracy dead. What's the matter? You bums forgot how to kill people?

Todd (VO): Pacino actually got an Oscar nomination for this role, which is amazing 'cause good God, he is fucking terrible. Full-stop terrible. Casting Al "Hoo-Hah, Say Hello to My Little Friend" Pacino as a literal cartoon character is like throwing Charlie Sheen in a room full of hookers and cocaine—you can't be that surprised at the result.

Big Boy: Wait. I'm having a thought. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I'm gonna have a thought. It's coming. It's gone.

Todd (VO): Yeah, it's a cartoon movie, it's supposed to be over-the-top, but ooh boy, there is just nothing menacing or cool or funny about this character. He may have been going for Nicholson as the Joker, but the result was a lot more [pic from Battlefield Earth of...] Travolta as Terl, and honestly, maybe even worse...

Todd: ...because Terl shut up every once in a while.

Big Boy: The city! They'll never find me! Can you hear its beat? Oh, the rhythm! Happy New Year, city!
A woman, a woman, a woman! I've been humiliated by a woman.
[As Breathless rehearses]
Big Boy: Show it! Move it! Touch it! Touch it! I want it!

Todd (VO): Fun fact: this character originally had no dialogue.

Todd: Wouldn't surprise me, at least.

Big Boy directs and gets fully into Breathless and the other girls' rehearsal of "More"

Todd (VO): Can Dick Tracy stop that dastardly Caprice from micromanaging the stage show and overworking the dancers?! Tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion!

Horror of horrors! Big Boy is making a power play by encasing his top competitor in cement, then dropping him to a watery gra... Okay, maybe you should've let the cement dry first.

Todd: Okay, whatever.

Todd (VO): The big problem more than anything is the plot. There is just zero forward motion. Nothing really comes to a head, no one's lives are at stake. It's more like five different issues of the comic book laid end-to-end than one whole movie with a structure or anything. Dick Tracy and Caprice just seem to be fighting each other because that's what they do. The first time Dick Tracy actually does anything is this ineptly-shot fight scene in which he acquires an adorable moppet sidekick, and by "adorable," I, of course, mean deeply obnoxious. Yeah, check out how well-rounded this character is.

Kid: [various times] When do we eat?

Todd (VO): Yeah, that's pretty much it, that's his entire character. He doesn't even have a name. And he's allowed to wander around being annoying for the entire movie until the orphanage shows up to take him away.

Itchy (Ed O'Ross): [from outside door, faking a female voice] Mr. Tracy?
Dick Tracy: Who is it?
Itchy: I'm Mrs. Skaff. I'm from the welfare department.

Todd: That's not the orphanage.

Dick Tracy: Just give me one minute, Mrs. Skaff.
Itchy: I hope you understand, Mr. Tracy.

Todd (VO): Tracy, you cannot be so dumb as to...

Todd: ...fall for this.

Dick Tracy: Uh, Mrs Skaff, if you'll just leave this situation to me...
Cut to clip from Saturday Night Live, where the land shark eats Laraine Newman.

Todd: Might as well be.

Todd (VO): This "tie him to the railroad tracks" bit goes beyond old-fashioned into just plain stupid. And it emphasizes the fact that, man, Tracy seems really easy to kill. I mean, I was never clear on why Caprice doesn't just kill him better the next time.

Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong): I'm rubbin' him out.
Big Boy: You kill Tracy, they point the finger at me.

Todd (VO): Well, that didn't stop you the first time, did it? Meanwhile, Tracy plants a bug on Caprice, starts wrecking up his businesses. How is Big Boy not in jail too? This movie just floats from scene to scene without any direction.

Todd: Well, what about Madonna?

Todd (VO): Guess what?! In this confused, damp, limp squib of a movie, this is the best performance of her career.

Breathless: You're lying. You want me the same way I want you.

Todd: No, fra...probably. She is actually really good in this. This is the role she was born to play, even though the character only speaks in ridiculous double entendres.

Breathless: [dropping her jacket] Aren't you gonna frisk me?
Dick Tracy: No grief for Lips?
Breathless: I'm wearing black underwear.
Dick Tracy: [opening door] What kind of ice cream did you get?
Breathless: Fresh peach. Better eat it right away. It's starting to run a little.

Todd: I'm getting mixed signals from her. Madonna is so damn sexy that straight-arrow Dick Tracy is actually tempted to stray from his best gal Tess.

Tess: If you weren't out in the street every night riskin' your neck, you could have a wife-- I mean, a life.

Todd (VO): Tess, for the record, is a nagging drip, and her competition is Madonna, so there shouldn't even be a conflict except that Tracy is kind of a drip himself.

Breathless: Baby, you're mine on a platter
I always get...

Todd (VO): Madonna also interrupts the movie with a number of Stephen Sondheim musical numbers even though this isn't really a musical. They're not bad songs. There are actually a lot of really good songs; it's just there's no room for them, so every time one shows up, it kills the momentum, or it would if there were any momentum to kill.

Breathless: I want more

Todd (VO): Have an action scene or a musical number, not both.

And finally, there's this strange faceless guy. Who is he? He offers his services to kill Tracy, then saves Tracy, then frames Tracy, then kidnaps Tess and frames Big Boy. What the living hell is his deal? What does he want? What's he working towards? Wait! Let's find out who you really are!

Tracy pulls out the Blank's face, revealing...Breathless
Kid: Look at that.


Dick Tracy: I thought you had to pick a name.
Kid: I did.
[He unrolls his certificate with the name he chose: Dick Tracy, Jr.]

Todd violently vomits

Todd (VO): There are a billion things wrong with this movie, but the big one is that there's no stakes or momentum, and Warren Beatty makes a shitty comic book hero. As far as Madonna movies go, it only stinks rather than sucks, so it's one of the better movies in her filmography. And you can tell Beatty was shtupping his leading lady at the time because the one thing he did succeed at was making Madonna look goddamn amazing. And while Beatty's reputation took a minor hit, Madonna would spend the next few years only getting hotter and hotter, including in movies because in her next project...

Todd: ...Madonna would finally find the role that would perfectly fit all of her talents—herself.

Trailer begins for...
Madonna: People think being a star is about being fabulous and being in the spotlight, having your picture taken all the time and having people worship and adore you. They're absolutely right.
Madonna: Truth or Dare
Guy: Truth or dare, Madonna?
Madonna: Dare.
Ends with Madonna finishing performance of "Vogue"

Closing tag song: Madonna - "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)"

"Dick Tracy" is owned by Touchstone Pictures
This video is owned by me

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