Review: Rodriguez & Miller's 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' Slums It
by Jeremy Kirk
August 22, 2014
Like Marv and the people in The Projects or the girls of Old Town, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is slumming it. The long-gestating sequel to Robert Rodriguez 's 2005 adaptation of the gritty and profane comic series from Frank Miller, you may be fooled into thinking it's more of the same, low-brow fun. You'd be wrong and probably a little disappointed. Sin City was a stylish and sadistic twist of the knife that laid its gallows humor on thicker than water. This one has the markings of a quality follow-up for fans of the first, it ultimately fails, its super serious attitude producing extremely dull results that border on tedium.
Returning to the fictional Basin City, where heading down the wrong back alley is a good way to end up dead, A Dame to Kill For offers up three (maybe four?) new tales filled with murder, sex, and all the grimy vulgarities and colorfully macabre characters you would expect. Nancy Callahan, once again played by Jessica Alba, is an exotic dancer with a deep sadness that sets her on a course for revenge. Dwight, Josh Brolin replacing Sin City's Clive Owen, struggles to maintain his sanity while an old flame reenters his life. Johnny, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a brash, young gambler who finds out you can beat the wrong man. And Marv, once again played by Mickey Rourke, just wants to know what part he played in the death of a group of frat brothers. You know, just a typical Saturday night.
Those descriptions are not any shallower or simpler than the stories found in 2005's Sin City, but the results are drastically different. Sin City had style, cool, and packed a ton of fun with it, so why the big drop in quality especially when the surface level shows the waters haven't changed much. Sure, A Dame to Kill For has the style, the color pallette of a black-and-white world with creative bits of color strewn about. The coolness effect has worn off a bit nine years after first seeing how Rodriguez would bring this world to cinematic life. Two 300 movies that achieve the same style don't help matters much.
It's that "ton of fun" that A Dame to Kill For is noticeably lacking, and this problem doesn't stem from nine years of familiarity with the Sin City landscape. The attitude simply isn't there any more. This time it's not the jagged edges of Miller's expressionist skyline you're noticing, it's the foam rubber jaw hanging from Rourke's mug. It's not the clever ways in which Rodriguez (and Miller, who once again receives a co-directing credit) drops in flecks of color to the image that keep your attention, it's the over-written and over-explanatory moments of narration wearing so hard on your patience. Like Sin City, most of the narration is trivial. Unlike Sin City, it becomes monotonous in the way it describes the exact scene you're watching or panders with weak attempts at humor. Nobody's laughing.
The monotony moves into frustration territory when considering the high marks A Dame to Kill For does provide. Most of this is in the guise of the players involved: JGL performing with the utmost charm, Brolin settling in as a fine replacement for Clive Owen, and Eva Green playing that old flame now back in Dwight's life with as much flair and energy as she brought to 300: Rise of an Empire. Again her nudity is a supporting performance all by itself, but cast that aside. She gives powerhouse performances when they're not even required and continues to be the main selling point behind some ugly movies. Another commendable return is Powers Boothe hamming it up like it's 1995 as Senator Roarke, the big baddie this time around.
Every time the film turns to one of these stellar performances, though, you only wish they were in a film that gave us something more inventive, something fresh that makes A Dame to Kill For more than just a cheap knock-off of the original. That's precisely what this film is with Rodriguez, Miller, and most of the performers on board simply going through the motions. Alba's character has practically given up following the death of her protector, John Hartigan, Bruce Willis returning as the character's ghost. Suitably, the actress' heart just doesn't seem to be in it this time around, and, intentional or not, it adds to her character's apathy. No one ever blamed Alba for her brilliance at the craft, anyway, but a blase attitude doesn't help.
There are sporadic bits of comic relief littered throughout, Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven playing detectives whose partnership is shaky at best and Christopher Lloyd as a back-alley surgeon. But these entertaining diversions are easily overpowered by the droll, uninspired attempts at fun, most of these coming from Rourke. His Marv is the focal point from which all other avenues in Sin City run, but he's taking it at half speed as if all that prosthetic work covering his face is all the performance he needs.
Sometimes more of the same can result in a welcome return to settings and characters, and, as much fun as the first Sin City provided, it seemed elementary to return to that well. Nine years of build didn't help matters, but, moreso, A Dame to Kill For isn't playing in the same sandbox as its predecessor. It's a rough draft of a Sin City movie, one where the dark humor and vibrant attitude haven't quite found their place yet. A Dame to Kill For offers a paint-by-numbers take on the Sin City universe, and it doesn't require much work when the artists involved are only working with black and white.
Jeremy's Rating: 3 out of 10
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