"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" – Robert Rodriguez’s hyper-stylized and hyper-violent hyper-noir – has many, many sins of its own to contemplate and consider, the most glaring of which perhaps being a severe case of tardiness.
Back when the first "Sin City" came out in 2005, the sharp, black-and-white film looked like nothing else out there. Nine years after the fact and about six years too late, the sequel finally stumbles into theaters, its inventiveness and freshness sapped away by projects like the "300" movies and "The Spirit." The film’s highly stylized looks still often impress, but the sequel plays more like an Easter egg gone unfound: a pretty, hard-boiled shell thinly covering up a rotting core, and its unpleasant stink isn’t getting any better.
Then again, even if it was perfectly on time, "A Dame to Kill For" would still feel just as relentlessly grim, one-note and pointless.
Following in its predecessor’s footsteps, "Sin City 2" is once again a collection of loosely connected little vignettes, all gorgeously glum portraits of dangerously desperate grizzled men, beautiful women – either angelic or (mostly) psychopathic, but always stripped down to the minimum – corruption, death and grumbling in constant voiceover about all of the above.
The main storyline follows Dwight (Josh Brolin), a down-on-his-luck PI paid to snoop the rooftops for disloyal husbands. He’s soon lured in by his purring femme fatale ex Ava – the titular dame to kill for, played by a vigorously vamping Eva Green – to help free her from her controlling wealthy husband and her soulless brick wall of a manservant Manute (Dennis Haysbert). The phrase "femme fatale" attached to Ava’s name, however, shouldn’t particularly inspire confidence in Dwight’s mission. Also: Stacy Keach plays a corrupt baked potato. I’m only kind of joking.
In the other two B-stories (though really, all of the segments in "Sin City 2" feel like B-stories), Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a cocky card shark who keeps winning at the wrong poker game, hosted by the city’s gleefully power-drunk Senator Roark (a Cheshire Cat smiling Powers Boothe). Meanwhile, Jessica Alba returns as Nancy the stripper, haunted by the loss of her protector Hartigan (Bruce Willis, appearing as a specter) and drunkenly working up her nerve to get revenge on Roark.
Stacy Keach does not play a corrupt baked potato in either of these stories, much to everyone’s disappointment. However, Doc Brown himself Christopher Lloyd does briefly show up as a sadistic heroin-addicted street doctor. So there’s that.
Throughout "A Dame to Kill For," Mickey Rourke’s blockheaded Marv – the most compelling character from the most interesting storyline in the first film – keeps popping up at random, summoned by our desperate leads to serve as a brutal bull in their enemies’ china shop (at one point, he takes a man’s eye as a prize). He seems lost here, although he does have a very short vignette at the beginning about hunting down some depraved preps that sets the tone for the rest of the movie by being pretty much tone deaf.
As with the original film, director Robert Rodriguez and his once again co-director/writer/collaborator Frank Miller give the film a highly stylized comic book cartoon look. Besides a few bold pops of color – a blue coat here, piercing green eyes there – black and white are the only shades in supply. It sure feels like Rodriguez and Miller only have one shade in their "Sin City" crayon box, though: bleak.
The first "Sin City" at least dabbled in some gallows humor. "A Dame to Kill For," on the other hand, is just one big, grim, ugly, macho, nihilistic, misogynistic exercise in thick noir monotony.
The script – mostly non-stop voiceover – sounds like a Raymond Chandler screenplay went through a Raymond Chandler generator and was then dipped in liquid Raymond Chandler. The stories go nowhere, repetitively hitting all the same glumly nihilistic notes. The characters – both old and new – all feel the same, and if that wasn’t enough, most of the performances are all pitched at the same level, especially the guys – all gritty tough grumbling to the point that "Sin City 2" resembles a one-man show starring a cement mixer. It doesn’t take long for the movie to feel like chugging down a tar milkshake – all thick gunk and gravel.
There are a few sprinkles, at least, on top. As she did in "300: Rise of an Empire," Eva Green steals the show, playing yet another fierce, alluring maneater with unapologetic, chewy delight (she’s also naked so often, she makes an issue of Playboy seem overdressed). Still, she’s stealing so little – like a professional thief robbing a Dollar Store … and the store wasn’t even open yet – and her similar roles are getting dangerously close to the point of diminishing returns.
Boothe is Green’s male counterpart, digging his deranged smile into his villainous role. Meanwhile, out of the gravel-guzzling brigade of leads, Gordon-Levitt fares the best thanks to his natural charisma. Still, Miller’s non-stop macho noir monotony puts that through the ringer.
Even the visuals struggle to stay afloat above Rodriguez’s all-fronts assault approach to the material. They still, however, remain the film’s best attribute, especially early on. Some of the comic book-inspired depth-filled compositions – especially in 3-D, surprisingly enough – are really slick and impressive, and the white continually pops against the black like neon. The eye-grabbing images keep your attention, which is good since little else will.
As for the stories themselves, some of them have promise, but each one just kind of ... ends, grimly petering out with a final dark, unsatisfying bow (a sin JGL’s card game story is most guilty of). Every time, it simply reminds the audience how pointless "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is.
The stories are overwrought and undercooked, so it’s not much of a drama. It’s too overwhelmingly unpleasant, ugly and often dull – for all of its visual panache, the action lacks imagination and leaves much to be desired – to be much in terms of entertainment even on a base level, and there didn’t seem to be much clamoring for more "Sin City," especially nine years after the fact (actually, it’s the worst kind of follow-up: the kind that makes you nervous to rewatch the first film). Even as inventive visual filmmaking, Rodriguez and Miller are still merely returning to green screen ground – no matter how compellingly rendered – already digitally trodden before. It still looks sharp, but style icons don’t wear the same outfit twice for a reason.
The only point I see is Rodriguez’s apparent mission to redo everything he’s done, just crummier the second time around. He did it with "Machete Kills," which got the memo to be more fun but wound up looking and feeling so embarrassingly tacky and cheap that most of the joke seemed to be on the audience. And now he’s doing it here with "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."
At one point, Nancy is watching a TV show where two men slowly die in a drab, grimy alley, aimlessly rambling and grumbling about Sin City to the interest of no one in particular. Who’s playing the two men? Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. How fitting.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.