Dead on Arrival
When you start comparing a Robert Rodriguez movie to 300: Rise of an Empire, you know a strong summer season is stumbling to a close.
When Sin City hit in 2005, it was a visual revelation. The stark neo-noir look, over the top violence and winking humor made it a cult classic. Comic book fans loved seeing a shot for shot recreation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel and movie fans loved the inventive look. 300 was the same story, a comic adaptation of a Frank Miller book with excessive bloodshed and super slick cinematography. Fast forward a decade where both series have their sequels and like its Spartan brother from another mother, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a watered down, ho-hum product whose best days are behind it. Robert Rodriguez’s direction saves it from Rise of an Empire’s watery grave but it’s still a sequel worth skipping.
Fans of the original can rest easy: the Sin City formula is intact. The stark black and white visuals are consistent in tone and it’s nice to see old friends like Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) reprising their roles. The visual style is still impressive and while there’s nothing new going on from a cinematography standpoint (a problem with the entire film), it doesn’t matter when everything looks this cool.
Unfortunately, like an amateur photographer taking bad shots with a professional camera, there’s nothing all that interesting being captured. The four stories showcased in Dame lack the base intrigue of the original. Sin City has always been covered with a thick layer of clichéd cheese but without a driving manic madness, the holes in the story loom huge.
Like Sin City 1, there are four short stories in Dame to Kill For. Three of the side stories include Marv kicking ass because it’s fun to do so, nightlife hot shot Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who goes after the evil Senator Rourke (Powers Booth) in a high stakes poker match and Nancy’s (Jessica Alba) quest for revenge for the death of her beloved Hartigan. The best of the three is Johnny’s story as it’s slightly different in tone and involves a hero who doesn’t stand much of a chance against Sing City’s political machine. The script is still riddled with eye rolling clichés, but thanks to a solid job by Levitt as the cocksure gambler, at least it’s a different wrinkle in the Sin City universe. Marv’s story is escapist despite a “been there, done that” feel and Nancy’s third act tale of vengeance is so bland and anti-climactic, it nearly put me to sleep.
The main story is the titular Dame to Kill For, which puts Dwight (Josh Brolin) in a desperate battle between his home girls in Old Town and his lost love, the satin clad succubus Ava Lord (Eva Green). Like her role in 300: Rise of an Empire (another link!), Green ‘s outlandishly campy performance and manic energy injects a defibrillator of electricity to the still born story. She’s fun to watch but the surrounding story is so tired and lifeless, she can only carry things so far.
One of the biggest issues is a lack of sensible continuity, the biggest offender being the Dwight character. When you spend two-thirds of the screening not realizing Josh Brolin is playing the Clive Owen character from the original movie, there’s something rotten in Sin City. While flashback can be a clumsy device, something should have been done to link up the timelines of the original to the present day. The result is a muddled mishmash of storytelling that requires entirely too much work to figure out. And it’s not a result of the decade between movies. The night before my screening, I watched the original as prep for my review. If it wasn’t clear to me, it won’t be clear to anybody but diehard fans of the graphic novel.
Even the action, a highlight from the original, is stale and moldy. Like 300’s slow motion slayings, lopping off limbs with bright white blood, bullet’s barely injuring our heroes and wonton sexuality lack the punch of the first film. It’s all been done before with more passion.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is like a boxer who comes out of retirement for one last bout. He still has the heart but lacks the punching power to get through the match. Like 300, the original Sin City was always more novel than it was good but Rodriquez’s zeal for the source material propelled the movie into campy, escapist fun. Unfortunately, the sequel feels beat up and bored, a tired retread of the days when comic book adaptations were becoming adult and CGI wizardry could conceal below average scripts and plots. Time has passed by Robert Rodgiuez’s homage to the work of Frank Miller and his newest attempt to pay tribute falls painfully flat. Sometimes, it’s better to say, “that was fun” and move on to newer, fresher things.
Score: 4 out of 10