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A bunch of manly men compete to see who has the deepest, growliest, most booze-and-nicotine-stained voice in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a nine-years-on follow-up to Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller‘s initial foray into putting the latter’s noir-drenched graphic novels on the big screen. It’s more of the same, really, except for two notable additions: Eva Green‘s killer embodiment of the titular dame, and the presence of 20 — count ’em, 20 — executive producers on the credits, in addition to six regular producers. What do they think this is, a Broadway musical? The 2005 original generated $158 million worldwide, a bit more overseas than domestically, and the new one could plausibly be expected to pull in a tad more.
Like the earlier film, this one consists of several interrelated episodes, which feature both new characters and characters carried over from the initial outing. That film was a pioneer in across-the-board greenscreen shooting, with real sets replaced by digitally added backgrounds. The practice has since become far more commonplace, but Rodriguez continues as before, using the technology to drench the sordid doings in the black-and-white of ’40s and ’50s film noir, with modernist slashes of bold colors — primarily blues, greens, yellows and especially reds — accentuating the violence and the allure of the women.
First among equals on the mean streets of Sin City as far as tough guys are concerned is Marv (Mickey Rourke), a gigantic, easy-going, longtime hell-raiser whose age gives him a mordantly amused perspective on life but who is easily prodded back into action, especially if it involves handing cops their heads on a platter. As before, the center of action is Kadie’s saloon, where Marv keeps a benevolent eye on exotic dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba), who is periodically shadowed by the specter of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who in the earlier film gave his life to protect her from Sin City’s sinister political boss, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe).
Turning up for the first time at Kadie’s one dark night is Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hotshot young gambler who pushes his way into Roark’s backroom poker game. With dancer Goldie (Jaime King) as his good luck charm, he wipes out the old man — but, with arrogant stupidity, doesn’t just leave it at that. Johnny’s dunder-headedness over not resting on his laurels but trying to further challenge Roark on his own turf makes the rest of this episode rather annoying despite some tensely violent interludes.
Of greater interest in any event is anything and everything involving Ava (Green), a spider woman so fatally gorgeous and seductive that no man can resist her. This certainly applies to Dwight (Josh Brolin), whose torrid affair with her ended four years earlier. He’s sober now and he tells himself he won’t weaken, yet he cannot refuse her request when she summons him to Kadie’s.
Pulp and noir were often built on the beautiful shoulders of such characters as Ava, and the main justification for seeing the film is to watch Eva Green claim membership in the pantheon of film noir leading ladies alongside Jane Greer, Gloria Grahame, Marie Windsor, Peggy Cummings, Lizabeth Scott and a few others. Frequently baring all in a way that was not allowed in the ’40s and ’50s and often lit by Rodriguez (who did triple duty as director, DP and editor here) in a high-contrast style accentuated by slatted light through blinds, Green more than earns femme fatale immortality by first reiginiting Dwight’s fire, then going through a succession of other admirers, including her loaded husband (Marton Csokas) and a married cop (Christopher Meloni) before receiving her well-deserved comeuppance.
There are other occasional highlights, including a titanic fight between Marv and Ava’s warrior chauffeur Manute, a role first played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan and now by Dennis Haysbert, and a final showdown involving the vile Roark. But the big problem here is the sameness of the material throughout, the one-note tone. Every scene is given the same weight — there’s no modulation, no sense of drama beyond mannered posturing, a feeling that the whole enterprise is about capturing a retro look and attitude and nothing else. The lack of any substance at all is what makes the Sin City franchise feel cheap, in the end. As an exercise in style, it’s diverting enough, but these mean streets are so well traveled that it takes someone like Eva Green to make the detour through them worth the trip.
Production: Troublemaker Studios, AR Films, Aldamisa Entertainment
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Stacy Keach, Jaime King, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Chung, Peremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple, Marton Csokas, Jude Ciccolella, Julia Garner, Lady Gaga, Alexa Vega, Patricia Vonne, Bart Fletcher, Alejandro Rose-Garcia
Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Screenwriter: Frank Miller, based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller
Producers: Robert Rodriguez, Aaron Kaufman, Stephen L’Heureux, Sergei Bespalov, Alexander Rodnyansky, Mark Manuel
Executive producers: Frank Miller, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Zanne Devine, Adam Fields, Elizabeth Avellan, Marci Madison, Tim Smith, Alastair Burlingham, Oleg Boyko, Kia Jam, Kipp Nelson, Theodore O’Neal, Allyn Stewart, Samuel Hadida, Victor Hadida, Marina Bespalov, Boris Teterev, John Paul Dejoria, Jere Hausfater
Director of photography: Robert Rodriguez
Production designers: Steve Joyner, Caylah Eddleblute
Costume designer: Nina Proctor
Editor: Robert Rodriguez
Music: Robert Rodriguez, Carl Thiel
Rated R, 102 minutes
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