Innovation should be rewarded. Experimentation should be commended. For those two reasons, I’m awarding “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” two-and-a-half stars.
There are reasons to celebrate the cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller’s neo-noir series of graphic novels. They are garish mashups of old stories and new technology, and they’re visually interesting crime-fiction pieces that expose almost every cliché the genre ever created.
I was pretty tough on the first “Sin City.” I admired what it aspired to be but hated what it actually was. The entire experience was like watching someone’s attempt at an art film. It was the kind of movie made by a friend who is eager for you to see it. When you finally watch it, you struggle to find anything positive to say, so you use words like “unique” and “different” to describe an unfulfilling finished product.
I actually enjoyed the sequel more than the original. It manages to tell a handful of collected series that feel more grounded than the original; however, all the problems I had about style winning over substance still apply. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is the living, breathing embodiment of style over substance, but it ends up being an improvement due to a cast that feels better suited to the material writer/director Frank Miller peddles. Actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Josh Brolin feel tailor-made for the seedy underworld stories of Sin City. It’s like Brolin was created for this kind of story. With his chiseled face and gravelly voice, he is a natural. Much like Chris Pratt in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Brolin perfectly steps into the role of Dwight, a private dick with an epic mean streak.
Dwight is doing various investigative work when he crosses paths with Ava (Eva Green), a purring vixen hellbent on punishing her former flame. It’s a volcanic love-hate relationship that generates a lot of heat. She’s trapped in a brutal marriage and wants Dwight to help her escape. She’s a perfect femme fatale and oozes sex with every breath; the kind of woman that makes grown men shed their sanity.
Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, a gambler who takes a large haul away from a senator (Powers Boothe) who enjoys showing how much power he possesses. Obviously, it proves to be a huge mistake. He tracks down Johnny and ruins his lucky hand with a pair of pliers.
Jessica Alba and Mickey Rourke return from the first film to reprise their roles. Rourke’s Marv continues his role as a fixture in most of the stories and provides color commentary and brute force when needed. Alba’s Nancy is a stripper with a heart of gold who somehow never has to take off her clothes. She has been stripped of every ounce of innocence she had in the original and has become a bitter, world-weary drunk. Her soul yearns for revenge against those who killed Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Much like in “The Sixth Sense,” Willis spends the movie as a ghost. He’s an ethereal reminder of everything Nancy has lost.
The stories are fun and kitschy; it’s like corn noir. It’s hard to take everything so seriously when it’s all played so deadpan. There are plenty of times throughout the film when it feels like watching Leslie Nielsen in “The Naked Gun.” Every character talks in the same emotionless warble. Guns are extremely effective against anyone without their name above the title but seem utterly useless on everyone else. Not since “Lethal Weapon 2” have I seen a movie where guns seem so ineffective. It’s one of the problems with applying comic-book logic to a movie you’re expected to take semi-seriously. The gritty, back-alley crime world seems kind of toothless when the heroes seem virtually indestructible.
I like “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” more than the first, but the whole enterprise still seems built on a faulty, cliché-ridden foundation, which works far better as a comic-book homage to pulp. The “Sin City” films are strange experiences since the source material is so inspired by noir. Frank Miller did a great job translating his love of these crime stories into the printed page. I realize the goal here is to make the panels come to life onscreen, but it feels like a photocopy of old, great, black-and-white noir films from the golden age of cinema. He’s so invested in homage that the style seems infinitely more interesting than the characters or the world they inhabit.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba and Josh Brolin
Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez