Director Robert Rodriguez and comic book author Frank Miller's collaboration on the first "Sin City" in 2005 was a huge gamble. Even they weren't sure how the movie-going public would react to their overtly violent adaptation of Miller's highly stylized and excessively brutal publication. But its success was immediate, both critically and monetarily.
Now they have returned to the silver screen, this time in 3-D (what isn't these days?), with an even more gruesome, more risque "Sin City" subtitled "A Dame to Kill For". Back in 2005 CGI digitalization was a new and revolutionary process in filmmaking. Since then, it seems everyone is using it. But Rodriguez and Miller still have the best eye for this technique, and with the exceptional cast, "A Dame to Kill For" should be a slam dunk.
But it's not. The script is dull, heavy-handed and predictable, with only a few twists and surprises --- and not nearly enough humor. Mickey Rourke reprises his role as Marv in "Just Another Saturday Night". He's a Basin City stalwart who knows all the ropes. Marv is fun to watch, especially when he's beating up nasty frat boys who are getting their kicks torching homeless men. And he's the only
one who provides any amusement.
Jessica Alba also reappears as Nancy Callahan in "Nancy's Last Dance", the stripper who had a thing for John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who died in the original, and shows up here as an apparition. There are several newcomers, one being Josh Brolin portraying Dwight McCarthy, who was played by Clive Owen in the first installment. He's the tough P.I. with a soft spot for Ava Lord (Eva Green), the woman of hisi dreams, or in other words --- a dame to kill for.
Brolin's fine, he doesn't do anything for me, one way or another. Green is definitely perfect for her role. She seemingly doesn't have a problem appearing nude on screen --- and she obviously has the body for it.
Rodriguez, as the cinematographer, lights Ms. Green beautifully. He shot the entire film against a green screen using the black-and-white graphics from Miller's novels as references. So things like the actors' eyes and lips, especially Ms. Green's, really add another level of drama to the story.
But, even with all of this --- the fabulous look and style of the film --- "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" feels slow, and doesn't hold our interest. These characters are simply not compelling.
The best of the vignettes is "The Long Bad Night" starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny, a young gambler determined to beat Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at poker, not caring about the consequences --- that is, until it's too late. JGL has become one of the best actors of his generation, and he doesn't disappoint as the cocky youngster who is in over his head. He looks terrific in black-and-white, specifically when he's driving the 1960 Corvette Stingray.
People who loved the first "Sin City" will surely appreciate Rodriguez and Miller's efforts this time around. "A Dame to Kill For" is slick, cool and violent --- unfortunately it's not great.
Opinion: Wait For DVD
If "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" sounds like a tag line for a Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney movie, it wouldn't be a stretch. This follow-up to Frank Miller's original film, "Sin City", contains thugs, gangsters and corrupt politicos that would do justice to any of those 1940's crime films. Miller is again joined by Robert Rodriguez as co-director, and together they have crafted a slick group of stories, shot in 3-D, that should more than satisfy fans of the first film.
Rodriguez is good friends with Quentin Tarantino, and it shows. The violence in this sequel --- that is also a prequel to explain certain things from the first film --- is over-the-top, Tarantino-style. But virtually all of the blood-letting is in white. In fact, most of the film is in black-and-white with occasional bursts of color.
The cast consists of a couple of A-listers in Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one former A-lister in Bruce Willis, and other well-known actors, like Mickey Rourke , Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba, back from the original. Even Lady Gaga has a cameo as a Jersey-accented waitress in a diner. Joining this group are Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Dennis Haysbert, Stacy Keach, Christopher Lloyd, Juno Temple, and most importantly, Parisian-born Eva Green as the quintessential femme fatale.
Green plays Ava, and it is her sultry performance that drives much of the film. If movie fans didn't know who she was after this year's "300: Rise of an Empire", they will now. Green is destined to join the elite group of current top actresses. Besides her considerable physical attributes --- which she is not shy about displaying --- she is a good actor. Ava returns to torment her former lover Dwight (Brolin) ---Miller generally doesn't bother with two names for his characters --- and it's not long before she shows off the "fatale" in her moniker.
The filmmakers' selective use of color, as in Ava's green eyes, red pouty lips and blue dress, or Dawson's red leather jacket, is an old movie trick , but it is not overused. Only the women are imbued with splotches of color. Some of the props are also colorized, even down to the smallest detail, like the suits in a deck of playing cards, or the red tail lights in a 1960 Corvette.
The women, all beautiful, are quite obviously portrayed as the stronger sex. Even minor players like Miho (Jamie Chung), a brutal killer who lops off heads and body parts with her sword, is superior to any man. She looks like she studied Uma Thurman in Tarantino's "Kill Bill" series.
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is a series of stories that, in part, explain how Rourke's character Marv, and Willis' Hartigan, have come back from being killed off. Their segments are actually prequels, so Miller is simply going back in time.
There are also new scenarios, the most interesting of which is Gordon-Levitt's turn as Johnny, a cocky gambler who locks horns with the ultra-evil Senator Roark (Boothe) in a high-stakes poker game. Johnny is a hoot showing off his sleight-of-hand trickery with a silver dollar, his card shuffling talent, and his overall cool demeanor at the poker table. He was not part of Miller's graphic novels, but the character was added because Miller and Rodriguez greatly admired JGL's work.
The visual effects team, which numbered over 400, and led by Tom Allen, deserves high marks, as does the make-up staff spearheaded by Greg Nicotero. His work on Keach's gangster Wallenquist, who is on screen for only a few minutes, is remarkable, like something out of a Dick Tracy comic. It consisted of many layers of latex to give the appearance of Wallenquist's grotesquely thick neck and disfigured skin.
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is film noir at its most unique. It's visually stunning and well-acted, yet it grew a bit tiresome towards the end. Although she is listed at the front of the credits, I didn't find Alba's character Nancy, or her dilemma, all that interesting. But Green and Gordon-Levitt, and even Meloni and Piven as cops in a shorter sequence, more than compensate for some of the lesser material.
Opinion: See It Now!