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‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ is digital film noir on steroids

Jessica Alba and Mickey Rourke star in 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For'
Jessica Alba and Mickey Rourke star in 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For'
Courtesy Miramax Films (c) 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For


We should probably be grateful for this: exploitation auteur Robert Rodriguez did not do what Stallone and company did with “The Expendables” sequels and water them down to a PG-13. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is every bit as R-rated as its notorious predecessor.

“Sin City” was released in 2005, and no question that nine years is a long time to wait for a sequel. Fans of the original will no doubt think it was worth the wait, and anyone who hasn’t seen the original will be left scratching their heads. Even devotees will probably have to do a little fingertip math to figure out the timeline of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” “Sin City” was an anthology movie, based on several of fanboy god Frank Miller’s graphic novels. The individual stories in “Sin City” did a bit of zigzagging in time. The stories seem more interlocked this time, taking place after the Bruce Willis plot in the original, but before the Mickey Rourke story (both actors are featured in the sequel).

The all-star cast, in addition to Eva Green (in the title role), Willis, Rourke and Brolin, includes Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Powers Boothe, reprising their roles from “Sin City,” and newcomers Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Meloni, Ray Liotta, Dennis Haysbert (taking over a role originally played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan), Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Stacy Keach and Juno Temple. Lady Gaga and “Spy Kids” alum Alexa Vega have cameos. No one will win an Oscar and of course they couldn’t care less. This was done for fun, and fun they have. The acting is delectably hammy throughout.

Each of the stories are narrated by their main character, and the “Sin City” movies get away with the voice-over device because they’re so deeply rooted in the hard-boiled crime fiction convention of first person narrative. The script is by Frank Miller, author and artist of the graphic novels, whose literary and visual sensibilities are extremely dark. Miller, in fact, is credited as co-director with Rodriguez, who photographed and edited the movie, as well as composed the music. Despite being shot in digital 3D largely on green screen sets, this high-tech production is old-fashioned Hollywood film noir, albeit on steroids.

There’s almost no point in summarizing the plots. Each of the stories pits an antihero, if not outright bad guy, against the powers-that-be in Sin City, who are always worse. As in “Game of Thrones,” no good deed goes unpunished and any victory over corrupt cops, politicians and other malefactors with means is likely to be pyrrhic. The title to the sequel comes from a segment in which Josh Brolin, a photographer who specializes in documenting illicit affairs, is duped into a dangerous scheme by a femme fatale former lover played by Eva Green. Think “The Postman Always Rings Twice” with a lot more violence.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” has a dark and perverse beauty, much like its title character. Like the original, the sequel is shot in a luminous, silvery, black and white, with strategic color accents. It’s always night; dawn never seems to break. There are dreamlike inconsistencies - palm trees line some roads when in other scenes it’s snowing. No explanation is given and probably none is needed. There are more expressionistic, comic book style touches this time, but the overall look is consistent with its predecessor. The fact that most of the blood (and there’s a lot of it) is white does not diminish the impact. As in “Sin City,” the violence borders on the obscene, including on-camera decapitations, eye-gouging and fractures. Of course this is completely over the top, and as with Rodriguez’s “Machete,” so much so that there is a burlesque comedic element to the carnage.

There is nothing wholesome about “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” but this is a triumph of style over substance that gloriously captures the sick, seductive beauty of the gutter, blood and a whore’s lipstick reflected the same color on rain-slick streets.