‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’
Considering how much head-lopping, eyeball-gouging, finger-breaking, skull-crushing, self-mutilating, off-the-hook mayhem is on display from the first moment to the last, this long-awaited follow-up to “Sin City” gets surprisingly dull, surprisingly quickly.
There’s “unpleasant business” afoot here, as one character says, and plenty of it. But it’s hard to imagine anyone except hard-core fans getting through “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” without feeling the effects of mayhem fatigue — or developing a serious aversion to world-weary tough guy voiceover narration.
That’s just one of the many staples of film noir appropriated by comic-book artist turned filmmaker Frank Miller for his noirer than noir “Sin City” graphic-novels, of course, along with femme fatales, out-of-luck private eyes, chiaroscuro lighting effects and a pervasive sense of hopelessness. Elements he and co-director Robert Rodriguez, were able to amp up and return to the big screen in 2005 after filtering them through a comic-book sensibility. With its monochromatic mix of live action and high-contrast black-and-white (with occasional splashes of digital color) visual effects, 2005’s “Sin City” looked and felt unique. And it didn’t hurt that its perverse, ultra-violent stories pushed into disturbingly memorable transgressive territory.
Nine years later, though, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” merely feels like more of the same — but less so. We know precisely what to expect —wall-to-wall lurid violence and fetishized sexuality —and we get it. But there’s not enough going on under the stylish surface to maintain interest. Unless you happen to have an insatiable appetite for obsessive love and sadistic violence.
Three main stories vie for time in “A Dame to Kill For,” all loosely intertwined and connected to the original. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a coin-flipping young gambler with father issues, who blows into town determined to take down the powerful Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) in an extremely high-stakes poker game. Josh Brolin suffers manfully as a private investigator haunted by Ava (Eva Green, who makes her entrance in a blue-satin overcoat then spends most of the rest of the movie nude), the no-good love of his life who needs rescuing from an abusive billionaire. And Jessica Alba swills vodka and cracks a whip as a stripper hoping to work up the nerve to shoot Sen. Roarke while true love Bruce Willis looks on woefully as a ghost.
There’s no shortage of hardboiled characters in these stories, including a bizarre cameo by Christopher Lloyd (of “Back to the Future”) as a sleazy back-alley doctor in boxer shorts and an endless parade of hookers in bondage gear brandishing assault rifles and the like (though my personal favorite is a slicing-dicing samurai hooker played by Jaime Chung). And some of them even start to seem weirdly credible within Miller’s warped world —such as Mickey Rourke’s strangely likeable unstoppable badass Marv. Marv will cut pretty much anyone’s throat without blinking, but he’ll also put his life on the line to help out a friend, or liven up a slow night.
Mostly, though, the stories, characters and emotions in “A Dame to Kill For” are as hyper-stylized and artificial as the visual design. Miller apparently counts on the eye-candy, and the extreme-o exploitation, to keep us interested. After a while, though, the only thing I felt was numbness. And then, like Marv perhaps, the feeling that there must be something more fun to do somewhere else.Tags: movies