There’s one thing to recommend—or maybe two—in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s tediously stylized mayhem opus Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and that’s a delicious Eva Green as a scheming femme fatale who leads several men to doom. Green, who similarly elevated this year’s Spartan epic 300: Rise of an Empire, bares it all here and delivers a sexy, sly, sinister babe played by an actress with her tongue firmly in her cheek—all the way in—relishing every line, every slink and every entendre. It’s quite a performance.
The same cannot be said about the film, an otherwise boring slog of hyper stylization and graphic violence (nothing wrong with either, mind you) that, unlike its vastly superior 2005 predecessor, comes this time in 3D, increasing visual depth but failing to enervate a very underwhelming narrative hung on ample breasts, bullets and beheadings. Too bad we don’t for a minute care.
Once again we’re thrust into scummy Sin City (or Basin City, to be exact), a world of gumshoes, strippers, victimizers, protectors and corruptors, yet this visit is wholly underwhelming, despite the return of major characters, the same look and feel and both Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez.
Again employing a tenuously connected anthology structure, “Just Another Saturday Night” features Mickey Rourke as badass Marv, a lunkhead with a memory problem and connection to a tragic stripper, Nancy (Jessica Alba), who in “Nancy’s Last Dance” pines for her deceased savior, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), while seeking revenge on Sin City’s resident scumbag, Senator Roarke (Powers Booth, in full command), who in “The Long Bad Night” is taken at the poker table by Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has his own connection to the senator. And then there’s “A Dame to Kill For,” where henchman Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) can’t get over his fatal attraction to former millionairess boss Ava Lord (Green), who finagles his help with her abusive husband (Martin Csokas) while turning her erotic powers on hapless cop Mort (Christopher Meloni).
With the exception of Green, Alba and Booth, the cast—also including Christopher Lloyd, Rosario Dawson, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Stacy Keach and one Lady Gaga in an effective cameo—largely fails to register, trapped in a now-familiar, gee-whiz netherworld that quickly wears thin. Yet despite the aesthetic overindulgences, Green owns this picture, while Alba has some terrific moments of self-destruction.
It’s been nine years since the original anthology film, today a bon-a-fide cult movie, was released to near unanimous critical and audience approval. Pure, gleeful pulp comprised of Miller’s hardboiled dialogue and neo-noir underworld rendered in deliriously stylish monochromes piqued with doses of color (as is the new picture), it signaled the arrival of the graphic novel as a major piece of cinema, a shimmering dark jewel of a movie.
It’s hard not to compare the new picture to its predecessor given its exacting and near-repeat palette, returning characters and co-directors, and while the movie comes to life whenever Green’s manipulatress is onscreen, doing the best character work in either film, in every other way, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, is a pale, also-ran pretender.