Something is amiss in “Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.”
The original “Sin City,” released in 2005, felt like something new, something experimental, all rough edges and anger.
In that first “Sin City,” filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Frank Miller engaged in an inspired collaboration that brought Miller’s “Sin City” stories vividly and violently to life ... and death. The novels’ panels are the movie’s templates, their print images faithfully and fervently transferred to the screen in harsh black and white with effective splashes of color — generally red — digitally added to underline the mayhem. That “Sin City,” its brooding settings created almost entirely by computers, is a highly stylized film noir caricature, with every noir aspect — the chiaroscuro lighting, the tough-talk dialogue, the bone-deep cynicism and the violence — taken to the max. It’s a caricature with bite.
Now Miller and Rodriguez are back, again sharing directorial credit as they did on the first picture. This new “Sin City” shares the signature characteristics and many of the same characters with the original movie, but it seems less adventurous. It feels a little flabby and self-satisfied. The element of surprise is gone.
Rodriguez’s black-and-white photography (as was the case with the first “Sin,” he’s cinematographer and editor as well as co-director) seems less hard-edged, almost creamy, this time around, and his reliance on voice-overs where characters explain themselves feels excessive.
There are several interlinked stories being told here, all involving bad people — among them, a hulking bruiser named Marv, played again by Mickey Rourke — and worse people doing reprehensible things to one another. In a segment not based on an existing novel, a cocky young gambler played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt wins a high-stakes poker game against Sin City’s most malevolent citizen, played by Powers Boothe, and winds up gruesomely tortured for his temerity. In another, a sexy bar dancer played by Jessica Alba falls prey to murderous rage as she mourns the cop, played by Bruce Willis, who saved her from several fates worse than death in the first movie and then sacrificed himself so she wouldn’t suffer even more.
The core of the picture is a straight lift from Miller’s “A Dame To Kill For” novel, and in those scenes, the movie reclaims a good share of the original “Sin’s” feel-bad mojo. Credit for that goes to Eva Green who is really carving out a niche for herself as the nastiest villainess in movies today. She laid claim to that title with her work in this year’s “300: Rise of an Empire” (also based on a Miller story) playing a merciless warrior. In “Sin,” she’s icily evil as an immoral seductress whose fatal attractiveness drives men to distraction, and murder. Red lips, green eyes, a figure that fries the mind of a character played by Josh Brolin, who is a fool for her and suffers terribly for his lust-driven irrationality.
Death, dismemberment and madness: These are the wages of sin in this “Sin.”