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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
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by Brett Gallman

"The long bad night, indeed."
2 stars

In terms of artists who have managed to wedge themselves up their own ass, I can’t think of a more toxic pairing than Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, a couple of former wunderkinds turned exasperating self-parodies. Considering it took nine years to shepherd it to the screen, you’d assume a “Sin City” sequel would be a prime opportunity for both to return to form, and yet “A Dame to Kill For” feels like the sort of effort you would have expected from a cheap, quick cash-in from hacky imitators with no real feel for what made the original work. That it comes from the exact same creative team is almost astounding.

Mimicking the omnibus structure of the original, “A Dame to Kill For” roams through three barely interlocking tales, with a Basin City bar serving as a hub for the town’s variously damaged denizens. Among them are some old, familiar faces, like roughneck Marv (Mickey Rourke), stripper Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), and crooked senator Roark (Powers Booth), whose lives become entangled when the disgruntled dancer looks to exact revenge for Detective Hartigan’s death in the previous film (Bruce Willis cameos as Hartigan’s bored-to-death ghost).

But despite that being one of the more logically realized stories (in that it has a solid foundation in the first film), it’s a weird afterthought that’s tacked on before the credits roll. Instead, the real meat of the story here finds Dwight (Josh Brolin subbing in for Clive Owen) summoned into a nefarious plot involving his ex-wife (Eva Green as the titular dame), her supposedly abusive husband (Martin Csokas), her bodyguard (Dennis Haysbert), and the cop (Christopher Meloni) that falls for her.

For good measure, this episode also weaves in Rosario Dawson’s band of female street avengers, with uber-badass samurai Miho (Jamie Chung) in tow. Copious amounts of decapitations, backstabbing, bloodshed, and scantily-clad women ensue in what may be the dullest collection of typically awesome shit imaginable. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is the ultimate example of a movie that sounds cool when relayed by a third party: it’s chock full of shootouts, car chases, explosions, colorful characters, all under the banner of a hyper-noir style that can’t be dismissed.

And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feature Eva Green doing what she does best: trying her best to send this madness into another stratosphere by sheer force of bare-breasted and hate-sex will (between this and “300: Rise of an Empire,” she can safely retire as the all-time champion).

But the problem is that she’s only mildly and briefly elevating “Sin City 2” out of its otherwise completely boring morass. Typically, I’m hesitant to write off anything as simply “boring”—it’s a little too broad and vaguely dismissive—but here’s a film that completely earns the distinction. Whatever vigor and verve Miller and Rodriguez manage to faintly replicate from the original is quickly suffocated by the characters’ incessant voiceovers and the relentless, droning score. “A Dame to Kill For” has exactly one speed: about twenty-five miles an hour, and it never accelerates past first gear despite the endless chaos unfolding. Few films can boast such a disconnect between such deranged material and its utter dullness. It’s a film noir that seems to have been auto-piloted by directors shaking off the effects of sleeping pills (spoiler: the sedatives won).

Even examining it through the noir lens feels disingenuous. While Miller and Rodriguez have captured the superficial aesthetics of the genre, they’ve captured none of the steamy sex or boiling danger that drives it. There’s nothing particularly sultry or menacing about a film that ingests the typical noir subtexts and regurgitates them into a vomitus display of “kewl” homage. Basin City is a pit of pure despair, where mangled faces and battered souls trudge along in a perpetual funeral march. As the various voiceovers constantly remind us, you don’t have to go far to bump into the sort of underworld most noir characters have to discover—Sin City is Hades drenched in bourbon and broken dreams, and there’s no place to come up for air.

Granted, this wouldn’t be a problem if the filmmakers here had any handle on the genre beyond its general look; part of the appeal of Miller’s original graphic novel (and even the first film) is the overwhelming sense of oppression—this is the sort of world that naturally engulfs you, no matter how hollow it might ring as homage. It’s a very striking style that’s desperately in need of a pulse here or some spark of life at all—it’s almost as if the directorial duo translated noir’s fatalist streak into a complete and utter dirge.

Green comes the closest in injecting the proceedings with the right combination of playfulness, sexiness, and malevolence but is hampered by Miller’s generically conceived femme fatale—she’s a requisite dark woman with no light to play against. With her ability to wildly shift her cat eyes from prey to predator, she makes for a fleetingly compelling man-eater with a vague sense of pathos that’s mostly inexplicable—you feel like Green is desperately attempting to bring something to a role that’s rather thin on the page.

Other brief, inspired character bursts provided by Juno Temple and Lady Gaga similarly threaten to take the film into the camp territory it deserves, but it’s mostly content to play out totally convinced of its own importance, even when it’s the sort of movie where Christopher Lloyd pops up as a drug-addicted doctor who drops by to reset the bones in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s broken fingers (JGL is Roark’s bastard son, a hotshot with all the luck whose only goal is to beat his old man at poker).

“A Dame to Kill For” presents quite a paradox: there’s little doubt it’s the distinct vision of two artists, yet it still manages to feel like so much product, a carefully calculated, prepackaged, and hollow exercise in a style that’s had most of the electricity sapped out of it, not to mention its appeal diluted over the course of the past decade. Everything from Miller’s adolescent preoccupation with lurid imagery and faux-profundity to Rodriguez’s digital backlot style feel hyper-accentuated in all the worst ways—this is the work of two guys who have lapsed into a shtick and seem unwilling to engage their own style, much less subvert it.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s in the fact that neither Rodriguez nor Miller’s post-“Sin City” output has inspired much confidence, so this follow-up can hardly be considered a disappointment. Rather, it’s exactly what you expect from these two—and that’s the problem.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23802&reviewer=429
originally posted: 08/23/14 01:19:30
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell not bad but lacks the punch of the first one 3 stars
2/11/15 Rachel Roth As stylish as number 1 but lacks the punch #1 made, not terrible but not fantastic 3 stars
12/19/14 Meep Solid and entertaining, as stylish as ever 4 stars
9/30/14 Dillon Gonzales It didn't capture the magic of the original. 3 stars
9/05/14 teddy crescendo I want to bugger Eva Green 5 stars
8/22/14 jervaise brooke hamster I want to bugger Jessica Alba 5 stars
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  22-Aug-2014 (R)
  DVD: 18-Nov-2014


  DVD: 18-Nov-2014

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