Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"

Director(s): Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller
Runtime: 102 minutes

The over-stylized, faux-noir alleys of Frank Miller's Sin City stories may be treacherous, but few of them compare with the journey that it took to get a sequel to 2005's Sin City to the big screen. On and off for years, a second adaptation of Miller's work was in a constant state of almost being off of the ground. Alas, nothing quite took, even with names like Johnny Depp and Rachel Weisz attached at different times (remember when those names actually piqued your interest?). Yet somehow, even after nearly a decade of waiting, the world of Sin City still holds a tiny bit of cinematic appeal. Co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Miller himself, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For may be running on fumes, but those fumes still hold a mindless, pulpy allure.

Functioning as both a prequel and sequel (kind of), A Dame to Kill For is as visually outlandish as its predecessor, even though the technique (monochrome with selective use of color) isn't even remotely fresh by this point. When Marv (an especially rough-looking Mickey Rourke) kicks off the movie with overwrought voiceover work, it's clear that no one here is aiming for the realm of high art. For all of its visual flourishes (some of them quite dazzling), Sin City is as crude and campy as its characters. At its best and worst, A Dame to Kill For embodies the spirit of its source material.

Yet even though nothing about the film feels fresh, the mix of old and new cast members are often able to make their mark amid all of the visual chaos. Josh Brolin, taking over Clive Owen's character from the original, makes a stoic hardboiled anti-hero, albeit without the sort of grimy, rakish charm that Owen brought to the role. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also quite solid as a cocksure young gambler, even though his best scenes find him facing off against meatier performances. Returning members Roarke and Powers Boothe (as a villainous senator), especially the latter, are still having fun in their over-the-top roles. And, of course, it's still fun to see Rosario Dawson smirk and fire off a few rounds, even as she's given basically nothing else to do.

But when it comes to having fun, no one is having a better time than new addition Eva Green as the film's titular dame. In her second long-delayed comic book sequel of the year (after 300: Rise of an Empire), the actress puts even the visual effects to shame when it comes to theatricality. Her casting as an extreme version of a femme fatale is already spot on, and watching Green shift her voice (breathy damsel, husky temptress) and her always camera-ready face while playing men off of each other captures all that a Sin City movie should be: outrageous, sleazy, twisted, seductive, and darkly funny. 

And, if Dame was all about Brolin and Green's story, it would make for a fun, disposable piece of entertainment. Where the film loses its way is in its awkward structure. Like the first film, Dame involves several interlocking stories. However, this time around everything is compartmentalized. We get intros to two major plot threads before Brolin and Green's kicks in and runs through to its conclusion, which then leaves two more stories that have a middle and end. 

Not helping matters is that the first complete story is also the best on all fronts. By the time narrative thread #3 arrives (involving Jessica Alba's stripper Nancy and her struggles with alcoholism and revenge), the film's initial fumes have started to wear off. With smarter structure, A Dame to Kill For could have escalated to a spectacular finale with plenty of room to play around with chronology. The film already has one location - the dive bar where Nancy dances - designed as a narrative hub, yet it only makes minimal usage of this set up. The film doesn't exactly wear out its welcome, but it does feel like it's in need of some rearranging so as to make sure none of the main stories are left feeling like filler.

Even at its lowest level, at least A Dame to Kill For offers something different compared to the usual comic book/graphic novel fare. The noir influence is backed up more by the style than the substance, but it lends the film the chance to dive into decades-old narrative tropes with an anarchic energy that, at the very least, acts as a fresh coat of paint. Underneath all of that gloss may be something old and rusted, but it's still eye-catching when the light hits it just right.

Grade: C+

1 comment:

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