Jake takes a wrong turn down an alley, ends up in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For…
Of all the films released in 2014, none feels more like a tax write-off than Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. I’m not the biggest fan of Sin City, but I certainly can’t deny that it has amassed a huge cult following over the years. The popularity of an original usually brings in a sequel with quick turnaround (the Avengers-related films have a two year gap between productions). However, it’s been nine years since Sin City was released, and the demand for another film wasn’t exactly of the highest order. Watching this new one I have no idea as to why it was made, perhaps other than to capitalize on the increasing popularity of comic book films. It’s mostly a lazy, idiotic and uninspiring mess. Matters don’t help that it’s helmed by a pair of directors who have either lost their touch (Robert Rodriguez, who hasn’t made a genuinely entertaining movie in years) or never had it to begin with (Frank Miller, last seen making his solo directorial debut with 2008’s cyanide pill The Spirit).
When the sun goes down Sin City opens for business, with all of its sordid inhabitants resurfacing to murder, drink, and just plain do reprehensible things. We first meet-up with Marv (a barely intelligible Mickey Rourke, buried under layers of Robert Z’Dar make-up), a hulk-ish brute currently battling amnesia, washing his sorrows away with booze, pills and slit throats. Elsewhere, there’s newcomer Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky young gambler looking to prove himself in a poker game showdown with the infamous Senator Roarke (a scenery chewing Powers Boothe). The bulk of the story follows low-rent private detective Dwight (Josh Brolin, taking over for Clive Owen) who faces his own demons when former love of his life Ava (a frequently nude Eva Green) pops back into his life, looking to make him miserable with the help of hired muscle Manute (a robotic Dennis Haysbert, filling in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan). Also in the mix is everyone’s favorite stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba), eager to settle the score with Roarke after he caused the death of her only friend and guardian, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, whose entire role consists of nothing more than standing in the background and looking concerned).
Unlike the original Sin City, which started off nicely with a short prologue that introduced us to the world, A Dame to Kill For literally starts off with its foot on the gas pedal, immediately thrusting us back into the swing of things, with Marv taking his aggression and head trauma out on some young punks. Marv seems to be the connective tissue between all the stories here, always popping up some way or another when he’s needed most (never mind that he was killed off in the first installment). His amnesia subplot ends almost as soon as it begins, and soon after we’re tagging along with hustler Johnny and his poker game in what has got to be the most disappointing section, building steadily towards a shockingly anti-climactic conclusion. The Dwight and Eva (the titular “Dame”) story is the most lengthy section, but no more interesting than the others. Brolin’s role is mostly teeth gritting and intense staring, and Green hams it up as Eva, wildly overplaying her part as the psychopathic seductress, often without the benefit of a wardrobe. Their section actually acts as something of a prequel to Clive Owen’s section “The Big Fat Kill” in the original Sin City movie (you may remember a comment about Dwight being unrecognizable after his surgery), and Rodriguez is working his hardest to tie the two in together, but once Brolin shows up in a bad Clive Owen wig, it’s enough to give up on the picture entirely.
The visual style of the film is certainly part of the draw here, and I’m sure most viewers will enjoy the computer generated atmosphere and sharp, high-contrast black & white digital cinematography, complete with neo-noir lighting cues and splashes of color (a series trademark). With all these heavy stylizations A Dame to Kill For is itching to be the coolest film on the block. To me, it all just screams artifice, finding it nearly impossible to invest myself into a world that looks like it was rendered on somebody’s laptop. I suppose I should be grateful that the cast does a decent job of not getting lost in the artificial environment, but nobody is delivering career-best work here.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a case of too little, too late. Rodriguez and Miller would have been wise to strike while the iron is hot; instead we’re left with a flaccid entry that bears more resemblance to a DTV production than a fully-realized feature film. The film is just a bunch of visual pizazz without any meaningful substance to back it up.
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