“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is now playing at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. R, 1:42, two stars out of four.
Here’s the news from Sin City, where all the men are strong, the women are good-looking and the plotting is below average.
The original “Sin City” in 2005 was junk, but it was visually arresting junk. A collaboration between graphic novel legend Frank Miller and director Robert Rodriguez evoked the spirit of Miller’s hardboiled noir stories. Live actors were placed in an animated world of CGI and rotoscoping, black and white and blood red all over. It was like Rodriguez’s ‘Spy Kids” series, but for adults, and by adults I mean 15-year-old boys.
Now the duo is back with more of Miller’s stories, and while the visual palette looks a little retro in 2014, it still packs a punch. I particularly like when the actors turn into animatedwhite-on-black silhouettes that pop off the screen. The farther “Sin City” gets from reality, the better it is.
Unfortunately, the stories this time around just aren’t nearly as interesting, as another bunch of dim-witted antiheroes get thrown out of windows, drive red convertibles, and bed beautiful women who only wear lingerie (if that). The franchise already feels exhausted, scraping the top layer of “cool” off of noir fiction without any clue of the depths beneath.
The slab-faced Marv (Mickey Rourke), a psychotic knight errant, was the most interesting character in the first “Sin City,” and he’s back for more. But disappointingly, he only gets a violent short episode at the beginning, and then basically serves as backup muscle for the other main characters in their episodes.
They include Josh Brolin as a man with a past (“Don’t let the monster out!”) who gets entangled with a femme fatale (Eva Green, rarely clothed) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a poker ace who beats a villainous senator (returning Powers Boothe) at the table, oblivious to Kenny Rogers’ advice about knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run. The third chapter brings back Jessica Alba as stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold Nancy, out to avenge the death of gumshoe Hartigan (Bruce Willis, back in “I am dead people” ghost mode).
Guns blaze, lips curl, and heads explode in showers of red and white. But the film lacks the pulpy richness of the original tales, and the seedy fascination that the miserable Basin City once evoked is gone. The film is loaded with star cameos, including Lady Gaga as a diner waitress, and I think I saw “Boyhood” director Richard Linklater in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance as a motorcycle thug. As in the “Spy Kids” and “Machete” franchises, Rodriguez always seems to be going for the “Whoa!” moment rather than building something interesting.
What else do you expect from a comic-book movie, one might argue? But that’s unfair to comic books — there are noir tales out there being written by the likes of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka that are every bit as violent and “cool” as “Sin City,” but far richer and more compelling. Those books all owe a debt to “Sin City,” but like the terrible Steven Tyler song that plays over the closing credits, it’s no longer nearly as edgy as it thinks it is.