By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In some movies, style trumps substance. In the sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, it downright suffocates it.
As was the case with the original, 2005’s Sin City, the way you react to stylized screen violence will probably dictate whether this followup wins you over or puts you off.
The first film was director Robert Rodriguez’s faithful take on comic legend Frank Miller’s hellish comic-noir stories of the proverbial broads, brawls, booze, and bullets.
This time moviemaker Rodriguez and graphic novelist Miller are the co-directors -– at least that’s the way the credits read.
Once again, movie realism is ignored (that is, this isn’t quite live action but isn’t quite animation either), giving way instead to a replication of the look and feel and page-turning pace of pulpy graphic novels.
The film interweaves three noir vignettes set on the mean-meaner-meanest streets of the seedy town of Basin City, an urban underbelly in a nightmarish, melancholic world with a hard-boiled citizenry that teems with cruelty, revenge, power, lust, gloom, brutality, and despair, populated by sadistic brutes, criminal lowlifes, femme fatales, gun-toting hookers, and corrupt cops and public officials.
Hey, this isn’t noirish, it’s noir!
As before, the film was shot on high-definition digital video, in mostly black and white with splashes of other colors, with sets and backgrounds subsequently green-screened.
Ensemble returnees include Jessica Alba as an exotic dancer, Bruce Willis as a police detective, Mickey Rourke as a hulking amnesiac, Rosario Dawson as a femme fatale, and Powers Boothe as a psychopathically corrupt senator.
Meanwhile, newcomers include Eva Green as the titular lead, Josh Brolin as an alcoholic private eye (inheriting the role from Clive Owen), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cocky gambler, and Lady Gaga as a… well, you’ll see.
Not to mention Christopher Lloyd, Dennis Haysbert (replacing the late Michael Clarke Duncan), Juno Temple, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven (replacing Michael Madsen), Stacy Keach, and Christopher Meloni.
Hey — it takes a village, y’know?
The performers do seem to be enjoying themselves — about which we’re envious -– as they play “noir dress-up,” but their performances aren’t at the service of anything satisfying.
Rodriguez (the Spy Kids franchise, Machete Kills, The Faculty, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) and Miller (The Spirit), the latter having written the screenplay based primarily on the second book in the Sin City series, give us a visceral experience, to be sure (although the freshness and impact of their visual approach has understandably and inevitably been lessened the second time around), but the depraved, gleeful, grisly ultraviolence also distances us.
What the directors do is edit together, for no particular narrative reason, two of Miller’s stories and interweave them with a new tale about the notorious inhabitants of Basin City that take place before, during, and after the events of the first film, rendering the second both a prequel and a sequel.
But Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is less cohesive and more disjointed than its predecessor. It’s like a fatally hip doodle pad. Instead of being led through a purposeful narrative, we bounce around from story to story as if at the mercy of a twister. And we respond to setups that don’t then deliver payoffs, instead dispensing plot threads every which way. Consequently, we never quite come to grips with what should be the film’s connective tissue and the ending seems particularly abrupt.
Oh, it’s visually arresting and then some, but this eye candy is neither fine nor dandy.
So we’ll hard-boil 2 stars out of 4 for the Sin City sequel. Black and white and blood-red all over, A Dame to Kill For is a shame to shill for.