FRESH POUR: Sin City – A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Sin City 2Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Dirs. Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller
Dimension Films

Mark my words – 2014 is going to be known as the Year of Delayed Sequels to Frank Miller Comic Book Film Adaptations, Starring Eva Green And Her Breasts. First, 300: Rise of an Empire gave us a perplexing interquel to the Zack Snyder original; now, we’ve got the eight-years-late sequel to Robert Rodriguez’s slick, innovative pulp-noir flick Sin City. I never thought I’d say this, but the 300 one was better.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For gives us another soft anthology like the first Sin City, telling a series of intertwined tales following the whores, gamblers, killers and thugs of the fictionalized pulp-noir world of BaSin City. The sequel gives us some new characters to work with, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s card-shark Johnny, but they don’t feel new; with his dead-eyed stare and growly inflection, JGL might as well be doing Young Bruce Willis again, Looper-style. Josh Brolin takes over for Clive Owen as gritty photographer Dwight, but mid-way through his story they put prosthetics on him to try to make him resemble Owen following some plot-required surgery. (He just ends up looking like Scott Bakula got stung by a thousand bees.)

Like in Rise of an Empire, Eva Green impresses most as a sultry, reptilian femme fatale named (get this?) Ava, whose vulnerable sex-kitten act is repeatedly shown to be a snare for those soft-bellied, perpetually-horny men. While she vamps with aplomb, the role is thinly drawn to the point of offensive; I get that the point of Sin City is that it’s a noir pastiche, but the film leans a little too earnestly on these depictions of women as tough sluts who need to be protected by and lean on men. Ava’s scheme allegedly assures that she won’t have to make a living “on her back” anymore, but minutes later she’s literally on her back again, ensnaring another man with her magic vagina. Watch out, men, says Frank Miller – women are just out to trick you into doing what they want with the promise of sex.

Apart from those two and a few others, the cast is the same – some with new faces. Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke both return, but their roles are thankless and pathetic, basically existing as extended cameos in the periphery of other character’s stories. Rourke, especially, looks bizarre, his Marv makeup looking like a Robert Z’Dar action figure who got stuck in the microwave. Try as she might, Jessica Alba doesn’t quite have the chops to make her non-stripper Nancy Callahan compelling, even in the midst of a psychotic breakdown and an Edward Scissorhands makeover. The most rewarding return role from the first is Powers Boothe’s slimy Senator Roark, but that’s because Boothe is such a powerhouse performer that I love it when he does cartoony bullshit like this. For better or worse, he owns the role, and his scenes bring a needed spark to the proceedings.

Like the first, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For closely adapts the stark, chiaroscuro look of the Frank Miller comics, but the style is ramped up to nearly obnoxious levels; the limp, barely noticeable 3D doesn’t help either. The action is flatter, more perfunctory than before – instead of offering over-the-top spectacle, Mickey Rourke just wanders down hallways with shotguns he never has to cock, with people firing machine guns at him (at point blank range!) and missing. Women flip around with their swords or crossbows, sauntering through battlefields in a tremendously unexciting way. This installment feels less like we’re watching a moving graphic novel and more like a commercial from an insurance company that saw Sin City once, and thought it’d be neat to “do the comic book thing.”

There was a grit and simplicity to the first Sin City that’s missing here, replaced by cheap-looking green screen that is too slick and plastic for its own good. Instead of offering something new, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For feels like a pale imitator, a lazy cash-in on the original. Ignore the fact that you liked the first Sin City: this one will mock you and make you  think that liking it in the first place was an accident borne of immaturity. Robert Rodriguez needs to challenge himself but quick, and distance himself from that increasingly-insane nutjob Frank Miller; the faux-grindhouse schtick has been old since, well, Grindhouse, and continuing down this road of samey tongue-in-cheek schlock is doing him no favors.

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It!

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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