(2014)2Tim HollandWhen Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's Sin City hit movie screens in 2005, it was a cinematic revelation. The highly stylized film, with its seamless blend of live action and green screen, truly looked like a graphic novel come to life. Its stark black-and-white images, punctuated with bursts of dramatic color, resembled nothing else before it -- it was a true original. Yes, it was all style with little substance, but its bold approach to filmmaking made its flaws forgivable. But that was nearly a decade ago. Sadly, what was fresh then now looks like so much smoke and mirrors on the second go-round in the redundant Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
One obvious question is: Why did it take nine years for a sequel to appear? The original hauled in more than 158 million dollars worldwide. Not exactly blockbuster money, but the movie turned enough of a profit to warrant a quick follow-up. (Reportedly, the failure of the 2007 Rodriguez/Tarantino double feature Grindhouse initially stalled things.) If A Dame to Kill For had been released in 2006 or 2007, it could easily have been excused as a studio's attempt to make a fast buck, with little time to cobble together a coherent, involving script. But the filmmakers had nine years. And this is what we get?
Here, as in the first film, most everyone comes across as a cartoon character (which, of course, they are) rather than a flesh-and-blood human being. It doesn't help that the actors play their roles with heightened exaggeration, and are forced to deliver Miller's lame attempts at hard-boiled dialogue. The results are cardboard characters who are difficult to relate to or care about. The movie is divided into three stories and an introductory vignette that eventually come together, but none of them are particularly interesting or original. The first, based on Miller's short story "Just Another Saturday Night," reintroduces the menacing, gravelly voiced Marv (Mickey Rourke), who wakes up near Sin City but doesn't know how he got there. He returns to the prostitute-controlled Old Town, where Jessica Alba's emotionally damaged stripper Nancy is also reintroduced, as is Bruce Willis as her ghostly guardian, John Hartigan. Willis, dressed in a long, dark coat and muttering encouragements to Alba, looks like an older, more ragged version of the psychiatrist he played in The Sixth Sense, only this time he knows he's dead.
The second story, "The Long Bad Night," is an original yarn written by Miller for the movie; it involves Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cocky card player named Johnny, who challenges and embarrasses the ruthless Sen. Roark (a terrifying Powers Boothe) and pays the consequences, which include getting his fingers broken. The highlight of this arc is when Johnny visits a backstreet doctor to get a bullet removed from his leg and have his fingers reset. The doc is played by Christopher Lloyd, and his all-too-brief appearance brings some welcome levity to the otherwise grim proceedings.
But the main story, "A Dame to Kill For," centers on femme fatale Ava Lord (Eva Green), who lures her one-time lover Dwight (Josh Brolin, subbing for Clive Owen) into rescuing her from her abusive, rich husband (Marton Csokas) and his army of henchmen, led by the hulking Manute (Dennis Haysbert, taking over for the late Michael Clarke Duncan). Of course, Ava, who appears unclothed more often than dressed, is up to more than she lets on. Much has been made of Eva Green's nude scenes -- yes, she's gorgeous, but her role is so shallow it's as if Miller and Rodriguez decided that if she appeared naked most of the time then the audience wouldn't notice or care.
The last story, "Nancy's Final Dance," another original penned by Miller, focuses on Nancy's desire to avenge Hartigan's death by screwing up the courage to kill Sen. Roark. She enlists Marv's help, and the two of them set off to eliminate the scumbag. But their showdown is a letdown because it plays out so predictably and ends the movie so suddenly that you're left wondering, "Is that all there is?" Bare breasts, boozy babes, beheadings, beatings, broken bones, and bloody battles should add up to more than boredom. Unfortunately, in Miller's increasingly ugly universe, that's all they amount to.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a lot like sin itself. It promises good times and fulfillment, but in the end it just leaves you feeling cold and empty.
Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For on AllMovie
Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)