A mercenary is killed, but comes back from Hell as a reluctant soldier of the Devil.
Spawn is a movie aimed apparently, at the kind of 15-year-old boys who don't get out much, unless to loiter vacantly in video arcades or by comic book racks. Indeed this particular toxic mutant avenger from hell originates from the Image Comics series and is already a successfully merchandised "superhero". The entire film looks like a protracted video game.
By most of the standards usually applied, it certainly doesn't play like a film. From an incoherent screenplay and frequently unintelligible dialogue, a plot sketch just about emerges. Covert operative and assassin Al Simmons (White) believes he's acting for truth, justice and The American Way. But the director of ultra secret government agency A-6 Jason Wynn (Martin "What am I doing in this?" Sheen) is in league with Satan and plans to destroy mankind with the ultimate biological weapon.
Jason and an evil spy babe kill Simmons, who goes to hell, where the rest of us have been since the opening credits. The Devil renames the mutated Simmons "Spawn" and makes him General of Hell's Army, in return letting him out to visit his beloved wife (Theresa Randle).
Back among the living, who shun him, poor old Spawn is torn between his commitments in hell and doing the right thing while more preoccupied with jealousy over his widow becoming an item with his erstwhile best friend (Sweeney). Throughout all of this, Satan's right-hand fiend, Clown (an unrecognisable Leguizamo) bounces around being evil and eating pizza with maggots on it. And occasionally the mysterious Calliostro (Nicol "I've played Hamlet for god's sake" Williamson) appears wielding a sword and providing portentous voiceover that makes us none the wiser.
Only the creature formerly known as Al's yappy little dog Spaz recognises Spawn and remains a faithful friend. Ahhhhhhh! First time director Dippe has a CV boasting tip-top credits as a special effects whizz (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park) and with the Industrial Light And Magic team, he's devised scads of wizard FX and morphing that keep shifting spectacularly across the screen.
But he's clueless at telling a story. It's simply a parade of toys and tricks, without a jot of playfulness, knowing humour or campery to endear itself.
As for horror, the only spine-chilling note is in the last two words that complete the movie's send-off line: "The choice has been made . . . for now".