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'Sin City: A Dame To Kill For' review: Peanut Noir

Eva's Greens
Eva's Greens
Miramax Films

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Rating:
Star2
Star
Star
Star
Star

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, and Ray Liotta

The Plot: Harvesting two stories from the Sin City graphic novels (A Dame To Kill For and Just Another Saturday Night) as well as adding two new Sin City stories written specifically for the silver screen (the pointless tome Long Bad Night and the ultra-embarrassing Nancy's Last Dance) A Dame To Kill For is a pastiche of pulp fictions set in the violent sleaze-pit known as Basin City.

The Film: There are many stories in the City of Sin, but only one of two ways that they can end. By suicide. Or by murder/suicide. Once you've figured out the basic combination to Frank Miller's heavy-handed brand of stream of consciousness storytelling - that all roads lead to a pulverized corpse - A Dame To Kill For has precious few surprises in store for the average theater denizen.

This isn't so much a sequel to 2005's Sin City as it is.... more Sin City. Though Robert Rodriguez promises us (note to film studios - never run a 45 minute red carpet special before you screen your new movie, it makes us attendees extremely fussy) that we would be delving further into the chromium-stenciled-sleaze-opera that is Basin City proper in this pre-sequel, it's soon apparent that Sin City is not nearly the sprawling mega-metropolis it appears to be at a distance. We've already been to Old Town (where the hookers spray bullets at abusive Johns) and Kadie's Bar (where the strippers spray disinfectant on abused stripper poles) in the last movie, which is exactly where we end up through most of A Dame To Kill For. There isn't much in the way of new digs in Sin City 2, nor are there as many new characters as there should be in a second extension of the, now, nine year old franchise.

Characters being a charitable term.

Frank Miller's world deals exclusively in classic noir archetypes - but mauled by every extremity of abuse and disease. These aren't so much people as they are back-alley abortion scraps, still bearing the coat hanger scars and the brain damage they sustained from the illegal procedure that ejected them from uncharitable womb into this fictional hell-hole.

We have a few new faces - some playing characters from the last film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the new kid in Basin City. Though his story, The Long Bad Night, is an anemic exercise in the futility of fortune and fate, Levitt gives the same universally charming performance he always does, and pretty much forces a lame story to limp forward to the best moment in Sin City 2.

Gordon-Levitt and Christopher Loyd split a scene together - it's the best three minutes in this entire project.

Clive Owen's original character has been recast. Josh Brolin is the new face of Dwight in the titular story, A Dame To Kill For. His approach is much more square-jawed - Clive always seems like he's working ball bearings between his cheeks when he slips into his American accent - but Dwight's story, as far as time frame is concerned, doesn't seem to fit with the previous narrative. Is A Dame To Kill For a prequel to Dwight's story in the original Sin City? The facial reconstruction Brolin goes through seems to indicate that it is - though another character's death during this section of the film sort of makes the argument that these events are a sequel to the events of Sin City.

Not that it matters.

I'm fine with dubious time tweaking, character resurrection, and actor exchanges. The Dame To Kill For storyline is the only real solid tale in the film, if only because it's lifted straight from the graphic novels, and Josh Brolin seems to fit right in with the working-class-criminal grime of this town much more so than Clive Owen did. That we see more of Eva Green in the nude than any asking ticket price could hope to promise is an added benefit.

Eva Green has become the official Miller Queen this year. Baring her chest, and devouring men whole - only spitting out their bones after draining every last ounce of marrow from them - Eva's been the best thing to happen to Frank Miller adaptations this year. Not that Miller adaptations have been great, or even very good, in 2014.

Put simply, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is a lousy movie. The film opens with the Just Another Saturday Night story, which has fan-favorite Marv hunting down and massacring a crew of frat boys (backward fitted sports caps included) who made the mistake of dowsing bums in gasoline and torching them outside of Kadie's Bar.

Which, upon reflection, seems like kind of a.... well.... frat boyish way to kick off a movie.

If the timbre of the picture is supposed to be pubescent exultation, then this is certainly how you kick the drama off. But after the giddy gore-slinging the film opens with, A Dame To Kill For Never commits to being anything other than a dull, inner-dialog-driven slideshow of unproductive sex and violence. Some movies are accused of being tone-deaf, I think we could skew the criticism concerning this film and call Sin City 2 monotone-deaf.

It pounds a single base key repeatedly, which worked well enough in the 2005 film, but sticks out as flat and verbose in 2014.

Sin City certainly shook the establishment up nine years ago - and rightly so. At that time the straight-from-panel adaptation hadn't been attempted yet, and Robert Rodriguez certainly seemed like the low-budget auteur to give the movie instant grindhouse cred, and a pair of much-needed brass knuckles that the source material required. With his Sin City graphic novel series Frank Miller scraped together all of the pervy male id indigenous to his heritage and expunged every last rotten ounce onto prestige stock comic book paper.

Sin City - as a work of pure, hectic creation - is man excising his own testicular cancer, splattering its tumors onto canvas, and coloring it with the telling motif of black and white. Sex and violence are hyper-stylized till the line between the two exists no longer and our only guide into the human conscience is the cold, cool voice-over drumming along in idiomatic melodrama.

What gets men off? Women? Death? How about both in bulk quantities?

Which - using the powerful gift of hindsight - worked amazingly well as a one-off a decade ago. In Sin City beauty and debauchery were only screen-deep - which made the original film so much more pulpy and provocative. Robert Rodriguez's usage of 3D technology in A Dame To Kill For overcomplicates why the original Sin City worked as well as it did in the first place. Characters and motivations this flat need a medium of equal depth to perform on. To attempt to give them the illusion of dimension ruins the superficial dynamic of the material.

Tragically, Sin City had its place and time in cinema, it belongs in the venerable theater chains of 2005 running up against Aeon Flux and XXX: State of the Union for ticket receipt returns. Today, after nine years of other filmmakers doing it bigger, badder, and frankly better, A Dame To Kill For feels every bit like a dumb movie shot in a warehouse.

The Verdict: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is a thunderous dud. Without the typical self-assured performances by Josh Brolin, Joe Levitt, and Eva Green, and Eva Green's generous carriage, it's approaching unwatchable. It also seems to confirm my suspicion that Robert Rodriguez chooses to make B-movies because A-movies are completely beyond his skill set. This one let me down.