Miller, Rodriguez Bust With Anemic "Sin City" Sequel

“Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” has crawled on hands and knees towards its inevitable doom since the day “Sin City” wrapped, a full decade ago. Co-writers and directors Frank Miller (comic book legend) and Robert Rodriguez (former DIY whiz kid-filmmaker) captured something primal, breathless, and frequently shocking with their original film, a work that wasn’t so much ahead of its time as it was right on schedule. Moviegoers didn’t yet know Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” (partially inspired by Miller’s bleak take on Batman), meaning that a comic book world stripped down to black and white – both visually and thematically – was primed to hit a nerve with an increasingly pop culture-crazy populace.

The film’s violent splotches of color only enhanced its neo-noir appeal, and, seemingly, a franchise was born. Any sequel would certainly be a smoky shadow of its predecessor. Only one question remained – how big of shadow? After a painfully protracted development cycle – a window that necessitated recasting due to the premature deaths of two cast members – we have our answer. “A Dame To Kill For” is everything a sequel mustn’t be. It’s a tedious, passionless, low-stakes game of bloodletting that plays like an amateur’s hands got all over Robert Rodriguez’s high-tech toys.

The screenplay mostly follows the original’s format of three separate yarns, but it doesn’t even get that right, haphazardly tying together stories that are mostly unrelated. More confusing still is that it’s half prequel, half sequel, resurrecting falcon-nosed Marv (Mickey Rourke) without explanation and sloppily retconning Dwight’s arc (Clive Owen then, Josh Brolin now) into a story of facial reconstruction that could make sense, but doesn’t. Dwight’s soapy pursuit of the eponymous dame (Eva Green) takes up the bulk of the running time, effortlessly dulling the senses.

Green (“Casino Royale,” “Dark Shadows”) is reliably game for campy fun, but here she’s relegated to nude scene after nude scene, making her less femme fatale, more well-compensated scenery. Brolin attacks the material with all he’s got, but surrounded by a one-note story and supporting players that are uneasy matches for the material – most notably Dennis Haysbert, taking over the role of Manute from the late Michael Clarke Duncan – the film’s main protagonist never feels like a protagonist. Instead, he drowns in the project’s overwhelming sense of apathy, ultimately washing ashore in one of the silliest wigs to ever grace the big screen.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fares better as Johnny, a conceited gambler with luck in all things except avoiding bullets. Yet he, too, is caught up in a story with nowhere to go, with no real twists or turns to be found – merely an anticlimactic showdown with the corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Only the arrival of Christopher Lloyd (“Back To The Future”) sparks any kind of energy, but it’s all for naught. The character vanishes just as quickly as he arrived. Thankfully, Gordon-Levitt is able to keep a relatively short segment on life support through charisma alone.

Segment three is left up to Jessica Alba, reprising her role as stripper Nancy, haunted by the ghost of her former lover, Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). She teams up with Marv for revenge, leading to the film’s only real reference to its predecessor (and the tale of That Yellow Bastard). It’s a stark reminder of what’s been lost between films, from the element of surprise to the genuine ferocity of the original. It was a dangerous, grimy movie, one that felt immediate, charged. That zest is long gone now, swept away by time, clumped into an unattended dustpile of malaise.

It’s fitting that Alba’s performance essentially closes the film. She was the weak link in 2005, but here’s she’s not any better or worse than her co-stars – and it has nothing to do with the honing of skills. She’s still as wooden as wooden can be, but her poor line delivery and awkward gyrations are now at home in the world of Sin City, fading away into the background like cheap wallpaper. And there’s no one to blame for all of it but Rodriguez, a gifted filmmaker who’s finally, fully disappeared down the Hollywood rabbit hole. The Austin, Texas-centric, green-screen addled cult of Robert Rodriguez has finally collapsed in on itself. All that’s left to wonder is if anyone will bother to tell him.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: August 22, 2014
Studio: Dimension Films (The Weinstein Company)
Director: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Screenwriter: Frank Miller
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Powers Boothe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Martin Csokas, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Chung, Jamie King, Alexa Vega, Julia Garner, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Christopher Lloyd, Stacy Keach
MPAA Rating: R (for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use)