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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Insert "Naked City" Reference Here"
4 stars

To call "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's long-awaited followup to their groundbreaking 2005 adaptation of Miller's acclaimed series of noir-influenced graphic novels, "lurid" would be like calling fried chicken "tasty," the new Taylor Swift song "catchy" and Eva Green "attractive"--those words may be technically accurate but they hardly begin to scratch the surface in doing justice to the subjects at hand (as I will be demonstrating later on in this review in regards to at least one of those premises). Seemingly containing a higher concentration of sex, violence and ultra-hard-boiled dialogue than any single movie since the original "Sin City," this is a film that seems to have been designed to make audiences cheer with delight or swoon in horror at the excesses that it revels in from the very first frame to the last. Although it may not be the unequivocal knockout that its predecessor was, it still packs enough of a giddily grisly punch to make for a ridiculously entertaining good time, though you might want to make sure that your multiplex is equipped with defibrillators in the even that it proves to be too much for more delicate moviegoers.

As was the case with the previous film, "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" takes a few of Miller's tales and mixes them together into a saga set in the savage streets of Basin City that takes place both before and after the events of the original and features seemingly half of the current SAG roster--some are reprising characters from the first one, some are newcomers to the universe and some are older characters who have been recast with new actors. In "Just Another Saturday Night," amiable psychotic Marv (Mickey Rourke) wakes up amidst an incredible amount of carnage--all of which he appears to have delivered single-handedly--with absolutely no memory of what happened and struggles to piece together exactly what went down. As "A Long Bad Night" begins, cocky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) comes into the den of iniquity known as Kadie's Club Pecos--a wretched hive of scum and villainy where the toughest of the tough drink, fight and never seem to complain that lead stripper Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) never quite gets around to taking it all off--on a hot streak to face down the corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) in a winner-take-all card game that, not surprisingly, does not go quite according to plan.

The central story--the one that give the film its subtitle--is a tale so familiar to film noir fans that they could practically cue the actors if need be. Private eye Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin, taking over the role previously played by Clive Owen) is eking out a living digging up dirt involving cheating spouses when he gets a call from old flame Ava Lord (Eva Green) begging him for help--something about the cruel, abusive and fabulously rich man she married and the vicious aide-de-camp Manute (Dennis Haysbert) that follows her every move. Now Dwight is fully aware that she is the worst kind of news imaginable but immediately falls under her spell again and agrees to help her out, even after a couple of brutal beatings from Manute. This might not make sense to some of you but it will once you get a load of Ava, whose very presence is so overtly carnal that it feels as if she is completely naked even when she is fully clothed. To be fair, "fully clothed" is an option she chooses very infrequently to judge from the results displayed here, among other things. Finally, "Nancy's Last Dance" finds the once-cheerful stripper four years down the road, drunk, insane with grief over the loss of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), the lone good cop who died protecting her from the depravations of the Roark family, and trying to summon up the courage to get her revenge by killing the senator with the help of Marv, who remains a sucker for a pretty face.

Though I never cease to be amazed by the astounding energy and enthusiasm displayed by Robert Rodriguez and his one-man-band style of digital filmmaking, the simple fact is that no amount of gruesome violence, whiplash editing and outrageous sight gags (emphasis on "gags") can cover up the fact that his narratives tend to resemble the twisted fantasies of a kid who has just discovered the joys of cleavage and bloodshed but hasn't quite worked his way up to story structure. In Miller's "Sin City" stories, he has found the perfect basis from which to let his fevered cinematic approach emerge. This is not just film noir--this is what film noir dreams about late at night when it succumbs to its darkest desires. The key difference between the noirs of the past and the "Sin City" films is that while the older ones were forced to remain somewhat circumspect in terms of sex, violence and profanity, this one lets all of them loose in ways that, despite their overtly stylized presentation, pretty much make a mockery of the MPAA and all that it allegedly stands for.

As was the case with the original, "A Dame to Kill For" is so overstuffed that even if it weren't presented in 3-D, it would practically be bursting off the screen. Despite running about 20 minutes shorter than previous installment, Rodriguez and Miller somehow manage to jam together wild plot developments, extended scenes of head-splitting, limb-lopping, eye-popping carnage, a couple of dance numbers, a loyal army of hookers, the purplest of prose and an enormous cast of characters strutting their collective stuff--in addition to those already mentioned, they film also finds room for the likes of Rosario Dawson, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie King, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Jamie Chung and, perhaps inevitably, Lady Gaga. There is so much going on that directing a film like this can veer dangerously close to plate-spinning but the two keep everything moving along fairly well and Rodriguez, working as his own cinematographer, comes up with a number of impressive visual flourishes that for once are enhanced by the use of 3-D instead of diminished. (None of the cheap, crummy effects that Rodriguez deployed in his previous multi-dimensional experiments here.) It does get kind of exhausting towards the end but if nothing else, few audience members will leave the theater thinking that they did not get their money's worth.

The best part of the film by far is the "A Dame to Kill For" portion, the section in which the blend of the traditional and the profane reaches its most exquisite balance. Much of the success of this segment is due to the knockout performance of Eva Green as the delightfully malevolent Ava. Yes, she is gorgeous beyond belief (it isn't often that the likes of Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson can be called the second or third-most-attractive members of the cast) and yes, she spends so little time here clothed that Mr. Skin could dine out for a year on her performance alone. However, what is even more impressive than her astonishing physical presence (okay, almost as impressive) is the fearless manner that she throws herself into the role of someone whose ability to lure people to do her bidding serves as her own personal aphrodisiac. A role like this runs the risk of coming across as silly and/or sexist but she pulls it off so well that even when after seeing the full extent of the devastation she has wrought upon those caught in her trap, most viewers will still think of those characters as the luckiest bastards imaginable.

The "A Dame to Kill For" section is so strong that it inadvertently feeds into the film's central flaw--its haphazard structure. The first film found a perfect balance between the three stories it was telling and even found room for a couple of amusing side diversions as well. Here, the other three stories come across like sketches in comparison to the more fully fleshed-out tale that they surround. "Just Another Saturday Night" still manages to work thanks to Mickey Rourke's reprise in the role of Marv, one of the most memorable and colorful characters in a resume filled with them and the one where, even more so than "The Wrestler," he most effectively finds the beating heart and soul lurking behind his grotesque exterior. "A Long Bad Night" gets some juice from Gordon-Levitt but it doesn't quite build to much of anything and its shocking reveal is anything but a surprise.

The biggest disappointment is "Nancy's Last Dance," which brings back one of the first film's most beloved characters and then sticks her in a disappointingly banal revenge saga that feels all the more pointless because it comes right after the long and sustained high of "A Dame to Kill For." And while I still have an inordinate fondness for Jessica Alba--the kid has panache and then some--her decision to once again play a stripper who doesn't actually take off any of her clothes, a move that was barely tolerated the first time around, now feels especially lame when coming on the heels of Eva Green letting it all hang out. The sequence isn't awful and things perk up a little when Marv gets roped into the proceedings but it might have played better if Rodriguez and Miller had used it as a framing device connecting the other tales than as its own story. As it is now, it basically is to this film what the psychiatrist scene in "Psycho" was to that movie--a weak-sauce conclusion to an otherwise strong cinematic buffet.

Other than that, "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is a lot of fun, albeit of the depraved kind, and after its long and torturous gestation period (there have been rumors about its production almost since the weekend after the opening of "Sin City"). It is slick, sleazy fun from start to. . . well, about 20 minutes from its finish. . . and for once, Rodriguez's directorial excitement feels justified. Granted, it certainly is not for all audiences--and hopefully you know where you stand in that regard--but if this is your cup of cinematic rotgut, you are likely to come away from it mostly satisfied. Most of the big films of this past summer proved to be one fizzle after another but at least one can say that the season is ending with a bang. . . in more ways than one.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23802&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/21/14 18:22:48
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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)
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