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Film Noir For Dummies—Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Reviewed

1. The original Sin City movie felt so inventive and revolutionary in 2005 that it's not really fair to make fun of it for how poorly it holds up now ... but you can't help it. For all the loveliness of Frank Miller's compositions—and considering how lousy his co-director Robert Rodriguez's movies usually look, it's Miller who deserves all the credit here—its universe is so dark, yet familiar, that what might have worked as daring nine years ago seems mostly cartoonish and ridiculous now. The overheated dumb-dumb dialogue ("When it comes to reassuring a traumatized 19-year-old, I'm about as expert as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench"), the noir-parody-that's-not-really-a-parody atmosphere, the men dealing with dames and broads and hard livin' ... the further you get away from it, the emptier it seems. The only things that still pop from the first film (other than Rodriguez's ability to get top-shelf actresses to take their tops off) were Clive Owen's sneering Dwight and, most importantly, Mickey Rourke's towering, transformative performance as Marv, the killing machine with a heart of motor oil and gold. It was three years before The Wrestler, but it let you know what was coming, and what Rourke could still bring.

2. Rourke as Marv is back in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For—which is confusing, considering I'm pretty sure he died in the last one—but that's about all this sequel has going for it. Unless you count Eva Green's breasts, which Rodriguez milks for all they're worth, so to speak. This is a lesser version of the first film, less a sequel or continuation or even a remake than a rehash of the same dull themes, with lesser actors and even less to say. The conceit also feels more out of its time than it did in 2005; this sort of unrelenting bleakness is more cliché than daring now. It's also strangely unfunny, and heavy on its feet. The first film had some moments of wry delight—I was particularly fond of Nicky Katt as a loquacious Nazi whom no one seemed to notice kept getting impaled by arrows—but this one is deadeningly serious. Yet there's nothing here to take seriously.


3. Like with the first film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For bounces around from story to story in the horrific town of Basin City, where laws are so lax that apparently you're arrested for not shooting everyone you see and then lighting a cigarette with a match struck off your face. The first story involves a new character, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's a dominant poker player but is trying to run down a figure from his past; the third story returns us to Jessica Alba's Nancy, an exotic dancer reeling from the death of her "protector" (Bruce Willis). The middle story is the driving force, though, and where we get Eva Green as the Dame of the title, a backstabbing seductress who can get any man to do her bidding. It is obvious that no part of her bidding involves "shopping for clothes," because seriously, Green is topless for roughly 76 percent of her scenes in the film, and she's arguably the film's main character.

4.That may be enough salesmanship for some of you, but Green's character is such a silly, grotesque, dodo version of a femme fatale that it almost feels as much an abomination as watching Lauren Bacall do a dance with a Dirt Devil. This is film noir as helmed by an idiot, and for all her vamping, most of the time you just worry about Green being cold. (Seriously, Jessica Rabbit was a more convincing human vixen.) Her story is also saddled with Josh Brolin doing a poor job of playing Clive Owen's character from the original- Brolin's a fine actor, but his lumbering is no match for Owen's suavity—and a conclusion that makes no sense whatsoever. This is the primary story of the film, and every scene of it lands with a thud; Rodriguez and Miller seem to realize this, and invite Rourke's Marv to briefly drop by for no reason other than to provide us with a little life. When Mickey Rourke ripping guys' arms off is more arousing than Eva Green's breasts, something has gone wrong.


5. The movie is still mostly pretty to look at, thanks entirely to Miller, but all the paintings feel even emptier with these thin rags of story just draped awkwardly on top of them. Only Gordon-Levitt, a lively actor who just sort of makes himself at home in whatever role he's in these days, has much fun with all the goings-on, and he disappears from the movie for long stretches and is ultimately just a red herring for the story arc of Nancy, always the most boring character in a universe populated with them. (Rodriguez's insistence on selling Alba as a serious actress—this is the fourth move he's put her in in four years—is indicative of his general lack of good judgment as a filmmaker.) I found myself spending most of the movie waiting for Marv to come back, and he died in the last one. That's probably the best way I can put it.

Grade: C-.

Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.


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