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Movie Review: 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' (2014)

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While the sights are twice as explicit as in its predecessor, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” contains none of the shock. The violence, nudity, and grim noir grittiness have staled considerably since 2005’s refreshingly bleak adaptation of Frank Miller’s hardboiled graphic novels. The stark black and white scenery splashed with moments of ferocious color still offer a ripped-from-the-pages look, while Miller’s blunt observations and savage analogies periodically exude perverse poetry. But the variation is limited, as are the thrills, taking into account that each segment rehashes a basic revenge plot and the clever wraparound structuring of the previous effort is curiously absent. Copious nods and references to the original movie insert themselves into “A Dame to Kill For,” while the assortment of villainous deviants and twisted humor returns - but the originality and bite certainly do not.

“Sin City's where you go in with your eyes open, or you don't come out at all,” cocky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) rasps as he ponders the multitude of tortured souls and corrupted lives that inhabit Basin City. Oversized, barbarous Marv (Mickey Rourke) bides his time at seedy Kadie’s Club, watching exotic dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba) when he’s not out slaughtering those that cross him. The sultry stripper hides demons of her own and anxiously prepares to take revenge on the man that caused her lover’s demise. Photographer Dwight (Josh Brolin) becomes embroiled in the devious schemes of duplicitous siren Ava (Eva Green), an enchantress who lures men to their doom. And Johnny tempts his own fate when he challenges power-mad Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) to a game of high-stakes poker - where winning may be the last thing he ever does.

All of the wonderment and novelty of the first film has unexpectedly vanished from this new anthology of Frank Miller stories. The settings and character designs have stayed (Stacy Keach as the thick-necked Wallenquist, done up in gobs of latex, might be the best looking), but the meaningful repetition of lines, the memorable intensity of the violence, and the appeal of the varyingly tainted roles are noticeably wanting. The ghastly concepts of suicide, murder, betrayal, revenge, torture, messy surgery, and self-mutilation feel right at home in this clutter of crisscrossing storylines, alongside impressive makeup and prosthetics, but all of the once-mesmerizing visuals (such as recreating the framing and angles of comic book panels) have succumbed to the blandness of the script and the overbearingness of the unstimulating case-hardened dialogue.

And with that style of overelaborate film noir throwbacks (or perhaps Dick Tracy on acid) comes another detracting element. The frequent narration, involving reusing quotes and attempting to manipulate macabre lyricism into grave commentary, is almost entirely unnecessary. Instead of detailing events not seen onscreen, the voiceovers routinely reiterate actions currently taking place, which serve to distract and bring unwanted attention to the incongruousness of some of the phrasing.

If that redundancy wasn’t enough, even the meaty, ham-fisted punches and plentiful stripteases (a literal fifty shades of gray fleshliness) occur too often. Between trying overly hard to be modern, edgy, and savage, and repeatedly highlighting every naked bit of Eva Green (who once again does a fine job as a nutcase in a role of indelicate eroticism), this second production feels like a monochromatic fairy tale brought to life, rather than the innuendo-laden, wit-filled, sinisterly destructive, suggestive works of genuine film noir. Like Dwight’s insatiable curiosity over the purported spousal abuse of Ava, Miller’s fans will nevertheless want to see this movie for themselves to witness first hand the deterioration in quality and creativity.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

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