Monday, August 25, 2014
MOVIE REVIEW: SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR Is... Yeesh
I loved Sin City when it came out in 2005. It was serendipitous that, at the same time, I was beginning to delve into the world of graphic novels, discovering the works of essential artists like Alan Moore and Frank Miller. When Sin City came out, it hit my sweet spots all across the board. It was violent, seductive, visually fresh and passionate to the point of zealotry when it came to being faithful to the source material. I rewatched Sin City recently in anticipation for the sequel, and found that, while I wasn't as enamored as I once was, I still enjoyed it. I walked into Sin City: A Dame to Kill For with measured expectations, but I guess I should have lowered them a whole lot more.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For isn't awful, but it certainly isn't good either. It's plagued by numerous problems that just compound upon each other and drown out the few bits that are worth your time. Those bits are uniformly performance-based, and help save the movie from being a complete disaster. Josh Brolin is a big and brutal step up from Clive Owen's laidback performance of Dwight McCarthy. Except for one or two scenes, I never bought Owen as the seething maniac he's supposed to be. Brolin feels like there's a beast inside him, and with a better script, he could have stolen the show. Instead, he's relegated to just being an improvement rather than standing out on his own. The only worthwhile performance that gets plenty of screen-time is Powers Boothe as the main villain, Senator Roarke. He's always dependable, especially when he's being rotten, but there's nothing too phenomenal about him, or else he'd probably save the picture. All the other players worth mentioning are far too fleeting. Christopher Meloni is the best out of them all, with Ray Liotta and a criminally underused Christopher Lloyd taking the silver and bronze.
Everyone else is either boring, lazy or just plain bad. Eva Green as the diabolical Ava Lord is turning the vamp dial up way too high, delivering her lines like she's in Mel Brooks' version of Sin City. Poor Mickey Rourke's Marv is the victim of being the best part of the first film, so he's shoehorned in all over the place. His opening story is fun but clunky and inelegant, especially in comparison to the simplicity of the first film's pre-credits tale.vJoseph Gordon-Levitt cruises by on his good looks, but his performance is perfunctory bordering on robotic. The worst part has to be Jessica Alba, and I don't even blame her for it, but rather the script's decision to make Nancy a psychopathic revenge machine (like every other male lead in a Sin City story), and you just can't buy Alba as that. She can play tough, but not threatening or deranged. I easily could have gotten into a story about Nancy avenging John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, who shows up as a ghost in a few scenes and acts like he probably did one day worth of shooting) if Nancy was just determined and strong, but making her a crazy misanthrope just doesn't do Alba any favors.
To be fair, the script doesn't do anyone any favors. There's more of an attempt here by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez to weave the stories together rather than present them as an anthology, and that's one of the film's biggest mistakes. It disjoints the picture terribly, and makes the centerpiece tale, "A Dame to Kill For", feel absurdly long. And that shoehorning in of Marv I mentioned earlier feels like misguided fan-service, spoiling the most memorable character in the Sin City mythos. I know he's present in the "A Dame to Kill For" graphic novel, but I almost wish Rodriguez would have broken his fealty to the comic and taken Marv out of that segment, making him more of a bookend for the movie. I'd rather have no Marv at all, but I knew his popularity and status as the original protagonist of the Sin City stories wasn't going to make that possible. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets the best story out of the bunch, but it's done a horrible disservice by being split into two parts, ruining the pacing and knocking the wind out of any punch it was hoping to have. It's not handled nearly as organically as the "That Yellow Bastard" segment from the original.
Now, there is one aspect of the film I wasn't planning to get into: gender politics. Knowing how Frank Miller portrays women in Sin City, it really seems kind of useless to harp on such obviously unhinged male fantasy, but even I found myself feeling kind of bummed out for the ladies this time around. The only women who get any real narrative weight are Ava and Nancy, and they are, respectively, a conniving succubus and a lunatic stripper weighed down by the specter of a man. At least the first film gave the hookers of Old Town a glorious bloodbath of empowerment at the end of "The Big Fat Kill" story. Here they feel more like tools in Dwight's arsenal rather than actual characters. Even Rosario Dawson doesn't seem as pumped up as before.
Still, I was actually willing to give the film's numerous flaws a pass if the visual aspect of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For managed to win me over. This is, by and large, the most disappointing part of the sequel. In the nine years (!) since Sin City, I expected to see Rodriguez take the style and techniques he utilized and play with them in more innovative ways. There are two examples of this (both in the Joseph Gordon-Levitt story, and both in the same setting), but otherwise, Sin City looks like it could have come out the same year as its progenitor. It's more of the same, but feels like less.
And without getting too in-depth, I do want to go on record saying that the ending of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is downright lousy. It's the worst kind of abrupt, and it gives the impression that the filmmakers just wanted to get things over with. In the words of Jay Sherman, "It stinks!"
I still like Sin City, but I don't ever see myself being able to sit through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For ever again. It's languidly paced and offers little to nothing worth heralding. I don't think we'll ever get a Sin City 3, and maybe that's for the best. In retrospect, it does feel like too bizarre a thing to try and replicate. I hope Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez find something new to do with their bag of tricks, because if they don't, I can't see much of a reason to care about anything they produce in the future. Ugh. I'm going to go watch a triple feature of El Mariachi, The Faculty and From Dusk 'til Dawn to make myself feel better. Then, I'm chasing that with another read of "Daredevil: Born Again."