SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR * 1 / 2
Starring Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Jessica Alba, Eva Green and Bruce Willis. Screenplay by Frank Miller. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.
If you ever find yourself enjoying a Robert Rodriguez movie — and it happens to the best of us sometimes – fear not, as he’ll undoubtedly keep beating that dead horse until you wind up wondering what you ever considered appealing about the original in the first place. El Mariachi, Spy Kids, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, and even Machete have all been franchised and rehashed into oblivion. As far as wearing out your welcome goes, Rodriguez is the cheapo exploitation movie answer to Mike Myers’ environmentally conscious joke-recycling program.
I do suppose there is something to be said for Rodriguez as a business model. He operates far outside the Hollywood system, shooting pictures in his Austin, TX garage on miniscule budgets at a prodigious clip. He often writes, photographs, scores and edits the movies himself, sorta like if Steven Soderbergh didn’t read books and still played with action figures. Rodriguez films are all kind of samey, though – slapdash, empty genre exercises that, at their very best, are just good enough to make you wish they were better.
Up until now, Rodriguez’s 2005 film Sin City was my favorite — a practically frame-for-panel transposition of Frank Miller’s self-consciously lurid throwback comic book that placed live-action performers in front of digitally animated facsimiles of the artist’s surreally exaggerated inky backdrops. The monochrome punctuated by jarring stabs of color, with images at times devolving into blobby, abstract tableaux, Sin City really looked like nothing we had ever seen before.
It cobbled the three best stories from Miller’s comic series into an overlapping Pulp Fiction structure, with the cheerfully tongue-in-cheek Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen and Bruce Willis all making meals out of their preposterously overwrought, hard-boiled voice-over narrations. (To this day I still grin whenever I think of Owen purring: “It’s time for the kill. The big… fat… kill.”) The whole thing played like a thirteen year old boy’s awesomely, gratuitously violent fantasy of noir as gleaned solely from sleazy vintage paperback covers, complete with sexless lingerie models toting guns and Willis ripping a deformed kiddie fiddler’s dick off with his bare hands before tossing it into a river as the audience roared. This was fine trash.
But now I’m not so sure. Rodriguez and Miller’s long-delayed follow-up, arriving almost a decade later, is one of those sequels that makes you retroactively question your opinion of the first one. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is more of the same, yet shockingly less so. Most of the component parts remain intact, pig-piling Miller’s vignettes onto a timeline that doesn’t make much sense. (Rourke had a fantastic death scene in the previous picture, but apparently nobody told him because he’s back again. Not that I’m complaining about more Mickey Rourke, mind you.)
It’s weirdly enervated and the novelty has worn off. A Dame To Kill For is almost a half-hour shorter than its predecessor yet feels twice as long. Part of the problem I’m sure is that the best tales from Frank Miller’s anthology were already cherry-picked for the first feature. This artist who changed comic books forever back in the 1980’s has suffered one of the ugliest declines of recent years, devoting so much of his time to being a bigoted asshole and all-around crazy person that the work has suffered dearly. No surprise that the “original” story he’s penned for this picture is also the worst.
In any case: second verse, same as the first. Underworld denizens of Basin City all hang out at one of those Flashdance strip clubs where none of the girls ever take their clothes off. Boilerplate tales of woe ping-pong back and forth and incorporate a variety of grizzled, underused character actors (in any other movie the presence of both Powers Boothe and Stacy Keach might feel redundant.) The body count is higher this time around, the gore more absurd, yet it all feels oddly rote.
Rourke –buried under piles of prosthetic makeup to make him only slightly more disfigured than the actual Mickey Rourke – basically serves as the movie’s bouncer, called in to beat the shit out of some bad guys every now and then, totally missing the child-like pathos he brought to the same part back in his hungrier, pre-Wrestler days.
Willis – who unlike Rourke seems to have gotten the memo that he died in the last film – hovers around the proceedings as a ghost, reprising his role from The Sixth Sense and looking sad about everything.
By far the biggest miscalculation here is replacing Owen with Josh Brolin as the luckless career criminal, Dwight. Clive must have better things to do these days, no doubt awfully busy being totally amazing on TV in Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick. But Brolin (an actor I usually admire) misses all the sly humor Owen brought to the character and sticks to a certain angsty knucklehead growling that’s less than pleasant. This is a real drag because the middle chunk of the movie is him facing off with femme fatale Eva Green.
A word or two about Eva Green: OH MY FUCKING GOD EVA GREEN.
I did not go see this year’s other tardy, unasked-for Frank Miller comic adaptation sequel 300: Rise Of An Empire because life has an expiration date, yet everybody I know who did refuses to stop talking about Eva Green’s performance in it. Truth be told, I’ve had it bad for Green since her very first appearance onscreen, in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, chaining herself to the doors of the Paris Cinematheque wearing an askance beret with a cigarette jutting out of her mouth just so. I think I might have swooned in the theater. There’s a reason this is the only Bond Girl who ever played James Bond for a sucker.
As you have probably heard by now, Green spends most of her screen-time in A Dame To Kill For bareass naked, completely disrupting Robert Rodriguez’s Maxim-magazine-aesthetic in which cherubic strippers like Jessica Alba wear bikinis. Eva Green vamps away with the movie, proffering a confrontational, adult sexuality that an arrested child like Rodriguez has no idea what do do with. Eventually I started feeling sorry for him.
On second thought, it’s probably safer for all of us that Clive Owen backed out of this sorry sequel. A smoldering Owen being delivered to Eva would have had half the crowd creating fire hazards by humping in the aisles.