'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For'
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller might have taken almost ten years to mount their sequel to ‘Sin City’, but within seconds it feels like they never left. This isn’t so much a sequel as it is a second issue. It’s more of the same, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view.
From the moment a heavily made-up Mickey Rourke enters a snow-filled frame as Marv and begins another round of ultra-violence in the prologue to ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’, it’s clear that Rodriguez and Miller are right back in their comfort zone. Aside from some inevitably upgraded animation and the wonderfully gimmicky 3D, the sequel feels pretty much exactly the same as the original. Sure, the novelty value of a digitally constructed black-and-white world with splashes of color isn’t as dramatic as it was in 2005, but there’s no denying that the full frontal assault of visual imagination and raging id pulp storytelling still scratches a certain itch. The film is filthy, silly, absurdly violent, stupid and inconsistent, yet so consistently entertaining and insane that it’s hard to mind. If you hated ‘Sin City’ last time, all the reasons to hate it have returned with a vengeance. Thankfully, the arty trash that seduced everyone who can appreciate the 15-year-old pervert’s fantasy of film noir that is Frank Miller’s magnum opus should be satisfied with Round Two.
While the last movie faithfully recreated four ‘Sin City’ comic books on an almost frame-by-frame basis, this sequel spins up some original tales as well. The brief Marv prologue and middle story about Josh Brolin’s grizzled photographer being seduced through hell by Eva Green’s almost super-powered femme fatale come straight from the pages of Miller’s books and translate to the screen well. The other two stories about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s talented gambler engaging Powers Boothe’s crime lord in a battle of wits, and Jessica Alba’s stripper seeking revenge against the same man with Bruce Willis’ ghost, are entirely new creations. Of course, since the new stories were written by Miller (who co-directs once more), you’d never know that any of the material didn’t come from the comics. He’s essentially written two new issues for the screen and they fit in just fine. The lightly interweaving narrative structure also returns, but everything is far more briskly paced, clocking in about 20 minutes shorter and playing all the better for it.
The stories themselves are pure pulp with battered alcoholic men and super-sexualized women engaging in rounds of hard-boiled dialogue and even harder-boiled violence. It could easily all be written off as sexist and excessive were that not entirely the point. ‘Sin City’ has always been an exercise in excess that pushes noir conventions to pulpy extremes for little more than dirty fun. Miller’s presence ensures that the film is true to the source (which he’s hopefully never gone over with a psychiatrist), while Rodriguez pulls it all together in his usual lean neo-exploitation movie style. The film is charming in its unapologetic trashiness, nimbly hovering along the line of bad taste and crossing it often with impish glee.
When the filmmakers go too far, their film turns into comedy and they get away with it. When it works, it often comes down to the actors, especially Rourke’s returning rager, Brolin at his growling best, Green turning femme fatale cliché into intoxicating evil, Boothe living up to his first name, Christopher Lloyd hamming it up as a mad back alley doctor, and Stacy Keach stealing his single scene under a mountain of make-up. The other cast members aren’t bad; they just lose this overacting contest to some masters (although Rodriguez’s insistence on showcasing Jessica Alba’s acting chops is getting tiresome).
‘A Dame to Kill For’ is not really about anything and doesn’t offer any particular a message. It’s just an exercise in over-the-top storytelling and slapstick violence. It’s style as substance and deliriously entertaining enough to pull it off. Rodriguez has created a cottage industry of modern exploitation movies that gleefully serve up sex and violence to the masses without apologizing for bad taste, and he tosses in a little tongue-in-cheek humor to let viewers know he’s having as much fun as they are. He makes movies for pennies on the dollar of his competition that somehow look more expensive and feel more purely fun. Sure, Rodriguez has made some bad movies in his day, but never a boring one. He should get a little more respect for keeping the Roger Corman model of filmmaking alive.
The ‘Sin City’ movies just might be the highlight of the Troublemaker Studios slate of postmodern trash, and this sequel comes so close to matching the original that hopefully Miller and Rodriguez will host another party before the decade is through. No one else could make something this outrageously R-rated and unapologetically ridiculous and have it play multiplexes and shopping malls around the country.