Ok, so this review is NOT going to go the way I originally thought it would. Let me lay some groundwork here.
I love ‘film noir’. There’s just something so slick and over-the-top about it. It’s pure ‘style’; style that can’t be mistaken for anything other than what it is. It’s largely rooted in a time period that, artistically, I effortlessly gravitate toward…that being the ‘hard-boiled’ 30s, 40s and early 50s. Frank Miller’s original ‘Sin City’ graphic novels took the tropes of ‘film noir’, and dialed them up to 11. They were slices of sordid life and death in the fictional comic book world of Basin City, told with a hyper-pulp sensibility, gruesome violence, unapologetic sexism and an endlessly creative visual flair. Obviously these elements ‘said’ something to indie action director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado), who took that inspiration and convinced Miller that he could do the material justice. In 2005, he did just that with the first ‘Sin City’ film.
From the moment I saw the first trailer, I knew I was going to get something cool and unique…and I wasn’t wrong! I LOVE ‘Sin City’ (2005)! Hell, for my most recent birthday, one of my best friends hooked me up with a kick-ass poseable action figure (they’re not friggin dolls!!) of one of my favorite ‘Sin City’ characters, ‘Marv’…played to perfection by Mickey Rourke in the film.
So, about a year ago, news of Miller and Rodriguez FINALLY getting to work on a sequel trickled onto the Interwebs…and I got excited. Word that a slew of original characters / actors from the first one were going to return ( Rourke as ‘Marv’, Jessica Alba as ‘Nancy’, Bruce WIllis as ‘Hartigan’, Powers Boothe as ‘Roark’ etc), along with some new additions (Joseph Gordon Levitt as new character ‘Johnny’, Josh Brolin as the first incarnation of ‘Dwight’, Eva Green as ‘Ava’ etc) only helped add to my fan-boy excitement. Added to which, they were going to use one of my favorite stories (which I happen to have in my collection) as the bones for the intertwined, multi-story narrative. All seemed so promising. So…what the hell happened?!
Let me get this out of the way: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ is, visually, a good sequel to the 2005 original. All the faithful, pulled-from-the-comic elements are present and accounted for, and they work nicely…especially in 3D. The problem I walked away with was the stories, and how they connected, and played out.
The first one had a nice sense of focus to the stories we were being told. Here, with THIS one, there’s some ‘blurring’ happening…an unshakable feeling of a lack of focus and overall direction.
A) We have the main narrative, the one that follow’s Josh Brolin’s ‘Dwight’ as he finds himself a pawn in the web of deception and violence spun by his former lover ‘Ava Lord’ (played with a LOT of glorious but gratuitous nudity by Eva Green). He crosses paths with ‘Marv’ and ‘Gail’ (Rosario Dawson) on his way to redemption and revenge.
B) We follow a new-in-town card shark named ‘Johnny’ (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a hustler with a near-supernatural sense of gambling good luck, who has his sights set on winning a high-stakes, back-room poker game against the immensely powerful and ruthless ‘Senator Roark’ (Powers Boothe), with a personal agenda bubbling just below the surface. Naturally, things go REALLY wrong with THAT plan.
C) We follow ‘Nancy’ (Jessica Alba), the star stripper of Kadie’s Club Pecos, who has degenerated into a dangerous and self-destructive alcoholic, bent on avenging the forced suicide of her savior (from the first flick) ‘Detective Hartigan’ (Bruce WIllis). Along the way, she also teams up with ‘Marv’, all the while being ‘guided’ by the ghost / delusion of the dead hero cop.
These three stories, like in the theatrical release of the first flick, weave in and out of each others paths, but unlike the first, there’s a certain, tangible clumsiness to them. I still haven’t put my finger on the exact issue, but SOMETHING just didn’t gel as the stories played out.
I can pretty much guarantee that Rodriguez and Co. will release the extended, individualized versions of the stories on DVD and BluRay, and I really hope that my strangely negative reaction to this one changes as a result. It felt like a case of trying to pull off too much with too little. Again, these gripes I have feel strange to write, because when I look back, ‘Sin CIty: A Dame to Kill For’ replicates the stylistic details of the first one flawlessly, but there was something else just below the line in the that one that added a perverse spark to the proceedings. That feels absent here.
Again, SOMETHING is just slightly ‘off’…making this flick feel ALMOST like a really kick-ass piece of fan fiction, instead of another resoundingly successful notch on Rodriguez’s cinematic belt. I’ve felt this way about the man’s work before, in the case of ‘Desperado’ (1995) vs it’s sequel ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ (2003). Another instance of the sequel lacking the entertaining ‘Ooomph!’ of the original, while trying to pull off too much with FAR too little (I actually thought ‘Once’ was a boring piece of shit that was trying too hard). And speaking of ‘too little’, I need to mention The Acting.
In the original ‘Sin City’, much of the acting is stilted and over-cooked, taking it’s cue from the pulpy nature of the source material. While many a performance are undeniably bad, it somehow lends a certain, kitschy and self-aware charm to the overall presentation. Here, it often comes across as simply lazy, bad acting…which pulled me out of what I was watching, and that’s NOT the goal of any half-way decent filmmaker…which Rodriguez undeniably is.
There were some other things that pulled me out of the film too:
In this one, the character of ‘Dwight’ is played by Josh Brolin, as opposed to Clive Owen in the first one. The change-up in casting is perfectly fine, because ‘Dwight’ (in the first one) has returned to Basin City a hunted man with a new, surgically enhanced visage (this flick acts as a prequel to the 2005 ‘original’). We’re seeing the story that led to THAT change. But there’s a sequence (that is HORRIBLY paced out) where ‘Dwight’ returns, after some mysterious passage of time (months blink past confusingly in the span of a scene change), and he’s since had the ‘work’ done. If there was EVER a time for a high-profile cameo from, oh…I don’t know…maybe…Clive Owen?…THIS is it!! Nope, instead of coaxing the talented thespian back into the Sin City fold, they do a lame-ass job of making up Brolin to resemble Owen’s version of ‘Dwight’…and it looks fairly ridiculous, thus further distracting me from the potential immersiveness of the ‘world’. Speaking of distracting make-up, was it just me or did ‘Marv’ look like he’d had his face inflated with a bike pump. Mickey Rourke definitely still brought the ‘Marv’, but the facial prosthetic had a swollen look to it. Small gripe…but a gripe nonetheless. And I have many more, but I’m sure you’re starting to get the picture.
All in all, ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ is visually VERY cool, truly honoring and accenting the effective ‘style over substance’ motif of the 2005 original, while making great use of the 3D format. However, the stories were poorly connected, as were many of the characters (how the hell did ‘Marv’ and ‘Dwight’ know each other?!), and the ending, while essentially making sense for the intertwined narrative, felt insultingly abrupt. I think this one will GREATLY benefit from the ‘broken-up’ treatment that the extended DVD cut of the original received.
I really hoped for more than I ultimately got. Not a terrible movie, by any stretch, as there is some good stuff going on…but it’s certainly not as great as it seems to have wanted to be. You’ll probably be fine waiting for a Home Release version.
PS- Jessica Alba’s ‘Nancy’ is still the most clothed stripper in the history of strippers…but damn, she had some hot moves on that stage.
PSS- My girlfriend and I saw the potential for a dangerous Drinking Game that would involve a shot of booze every time Eva Green put her tasty breasts on glorious display…which is a lot, much to my delight…and my woman’s chagrin. It did seem a LITTLE gratuitous after a while…but “look down the right alley in Sin City…and you can find anything”…like Eva Green’s boobs! : )