No way. They can't be serious. "The Spirit" has to be a lampoon of hyperviolent, overdesigned pulp potboilers like "Sin City" and "300." The Wayans brothers must have adopted the alias of writer/director Frank Miller and this is their latest spoof: "Graphic Novel Movie."

I suppose "The Spirit" could be worse, though it beggars the imagination to say just how. It's not easy to make a thriller that's both incredibly convoluted and intensely boring, laboriously narrated yet befuddled, but Miller -- creator and co-director of "Sin City" -- triumphs on all counts.

Based on a series of comics by Will Eisner, "The Spirit" stars Gabriel Macht as a masked crime fighter who likes to ogle dames, have fistfights and stand on tenement rooftops spouting tough-guy poetry about his city. Macht probably should have asked to wear a mask regardless, to prevent this excruciating display of ineptitude from sinking his career.

An eye-rolling Samuel L. Jackson appears as the Spirit's opposite number, the Octopus, a mad scientist/crime lord with a penchant for samurai robes, Nazi uniforms and fun-fur pimp regalia. The story line is just as gaudy, with reanimation, death spirits, insane medical experiments, cloned henchmen, elixirs from Mount Olympus and love gone wrong held together by threadbare wisecracks and criminal overacting. Photographed in moody chiaroscuro, the action feels two-dimensional, which is one-and-a-half better than the characters.

This film is PG-13 because 13 is the maximum age of those who might find it entertaining. If you must see this film, my advice is to crank your brain to its lowest possible idle and let the images wash over you.

Here's Macht and Jackson having a fight in a pool of some greasy emulsion. Jackson wallops Macht with a toilet and informs us "Toilets are always funny." Here's Macht getting ventilated with bullet holes, but since he's undead they don't hurt. Here's vampy Eve Mendes making a photocopy of her derriere and leaving it at the scene of a crime. Perhaps this will be a clue later?

Why does the Spirit's city include 1950s Bulgemobiles alongside high-tech flip phones? Why was Scarlett Johansson ever considered an actress? Don't bother wondering. Even with your mind in neutral, you'd still be overthinking this ultra-incoherent, ultra-boring exercise in ultra-stupidity.

A movie like this is a collector's item in a way. Often even the shabbiest, most broken films have a glimmer of wit, or a sly turn by an actor who understands he's participating in a disaster. Here there's no shred of talent struggling to get out. The only thing struggling to get out will be audiences.

They must have been kidding. Or else they set out to create a primer on how not to make a film. In which case ... well played.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186