Friday, August 22, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

When the first Sin City arrived in 2005, it carried with it a sense of true innovation and the promise of a visual style audiences had never seen before. The story wasn't particularly original, but no one could deny its had jaw-dropping special effects and gorgeous cinematography, taking a black and white color palette from the film noir movies it was so clearly paying homage to and adding vibrant splashes of color. But that was nine years ago, and where the first film's flair was cool and surprising, this time it feels like a gimmick dragged out for far too long. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was not worth the wait.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Starring: Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba

As in the first film, the movie follows a disparate cross-section of characters, all of them variations on film noir archetypes: the stripper with a heart of gold (Jessica Alba), now a drunk because her lover (Bruce Willis) was killed; a stunning, scheming femme fatale (Eva Green) and the man (Josh Brolin) she manipulates with ease; and a cocky gambler (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ready to take down the most ruthless and powerful man in the city (Powers Boothe). It all feels very familiar, thanks to both a returning cast of characters (including Mickey Rourke's Marv) and the cliche-ridden dialogue. More often than not, we're left with a feeling of "I've seen all of this before."

That's not to say the movie isn't gorgeous. It's just as beautiful as ever, and the fact that so much of the film slowly pans across Eva Green's naked body certainly doesn't hurt (she's much more pleasant to look at than the Yellow Bastard in the first movie, a repulsive, Dick Tracy-style villain). But much of the imagery would be better off displayed as a still image or a poster than presented in conjunction with 23 other frames per second, because as the film wears on - its runtime is less than two hours, but it feels much longer - Sin City: A Dame to Kill For becomes unbearably repetitive. Multiple characters recruit Marv as their muscle and decide to lay siege to a mansion, but the action is shot practically the same way every time. I wanted to love this movie, but so much of it is just boring repetition that I couldn't bring myself to care about most of it.

Gordon-Levitt, whose arrogant gambler Johnny is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak environment, was the character I was most interested in, but sadly he only appears in the film for probably 25 minutes. It felt like co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller could only secure actors for very small periods of time, so people like Ray Liotta, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, and Christopher Lloyd all seem to show up for a couple of minutes and then disappear.

Truly, though, this film belongs to Eva Green, the titular "dame to kill for." She's breathtaking and magnetic, and even though the dialogue she's asked to perform isn't particularly fresh or interesting, she gives a captivating performance that elevates the material. Josh Brolin is also solid as Dwight, with his guttural delivery and convincing physicality, but like her character, Green dominates the film.

(Side note: This is not the movie's fault, but it suffers from some particularly bad timing in relation to current events. Watching Miho (Jamie Chung) behead about 15 guys doesn't sit well at all after journalist James Foley was beheaded just a few days ago, and it's hard not to think about the situation in Ferguson when a police officer tells Johnny, "I can't protect you," and Johnny responds, "Then why are you a cop?")

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For isn't completely without merit. Occasionally there's an amusing voiceover or one-liner that generates some laughs, and a couple of the performances are worth checking out. But the film is ultimately a disappointing, one-note sequel made even more disappointing by the long delay between entries, and I hope Rodriguez decides to leave Sin City in his rearview mirror and move on to projects with a bit more life in them.

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