Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Relies on Stylistic Violence Over Substance. And, Man, It's Ugly.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez.
Writer: Frank Miller.
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green.
Where it's playing: Everywhere.

It’s been seven years since visionaries Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller lit up theaters with the first Sin City, a hyper-violent, stylish and, let’s be honest here, downright fun flick. That film was a fresh and dirty new style for comic-book storytelling and neo-noir cinema. There were no happy endings — well, not unless someone got their head blown off — and, hey, it worked.

That film's sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, in many regards is just as slick and filthy as the first film. But it doesn't match up beyond that. For whatever reason, Miller decided to gave all of his characters feelings this time around. And, in turn, the second installment in the Sin City series mostly comes off like one long and boring smutty soap opera. And a confusing one at that: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For — or just simply Sin City 2 — is a prequel and sequel to Sin City.

One big thing remains the same: We're back in Basin City for our action, and it remains a place populated by vagrants, thieves, killers, rapists, pimps, prostitutes and just plain ole weird ass motherfuckers. As the hook goes: “Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything.” Except, well, that's not entirely true. Aside from fan-favorite Marv (Mickey Rourke), who is the main attraction for almost the entire film, most of the last film's touchstones characters have been relegated to cameo roles this time around. That or the actors playing them have changed.

The most notable cast-change head-scratcher comes in the form of Josh Brolin, who replaces Clive Owen as Dwight. If you’re not into the graphic novels, where Dwight's facial features change with startling regularity, you're gonna be confused. Brolin is a solid actor, but Owen brought more of an intriguing innocence to Dwight. Brolin, on the other hand, spends his time narrating his scenes in a deep grunt reminiscent of Christian Bale's Batman. It's weird. Also strange: Bob, originally portrayed by Michael Madsen, is now played by Jeremy Piven, for no apparent reason whatsoever.

It's just a whole different vibe. Dwight, who was something of a romantic last time around, is now just a hard-boiled sonofabitch. Meanwhile, Rourke's bristling intense Marv goes the opposite direction.

The whole thing's just a bummer.

Bumm. Er.

Now, granted: There are some really terrific scene-stealing performances here. Christopher Lloyd, who plays a coked out doctor named Kroenig, is marvelous. And this goes without saying: Eva Green's performance is as lethal as anything you'd expect from her.

Still, the real draw here is the aesthetic. And, of course, Sin City 2 is indeed shot in the exact same titivating style as its predecessor. There's monochrome madness and green screen galore. And, for added punch, a few colors are once again highlighted throughout the film. Splotches of red add some gore to blood splatters and other colors work as nice stylistic complements, particularly when the characters are in various states of undress. At times, scenes look cheap — but purposefully so. It's a fine showcase for Rodriguez and his affinity for digital cinema, in that regard. That's the whole neo-noir idea, really.

That, too, helps explain the fact that Sin City 2 is a mishmash of storylines, not unlike the first. This version takes two original stories from the comics — The titular “A Dame to Kill For,” plus “Just Another Saturday Night” — and lumps them in with some new, fabricated ones. The comic-ripped ones, perhaps unsurprisingly, are the only two segments worth a damn to watch. “The Long, Bad Night,” which stars the likable Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a pompous poker player way in over his head, ends on an anti-climatic, innocuous note.

Which is fitting, given the rest of Sin City 2's misgivings. This is a film that wants to be dirty and fierce — but it's filled with too much raunch, too much male chauvinism and, weirdly, just not enough kicking ass.

And no color scheme, no matter how clever, can cover that up.

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