Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – This dame has had its day

ROBERT Rodriguez is a strange man. Frank Miller is stranger still. Together, the two make a rather terrifying prospect. 2005’s Sin City, based on Miller’s comic source and written/directed by both men, injected a whole lot of stylised violence and stunning visuals into its neo-noir, gravel-voiced, stripper-laden setting with little else to distinguish it from every other gritty-inner-city-misery-porn flick on the block. For some reason it was well-received by both audiences and critics, with particular praise extending to the duo’s direction and the film’s beautiful colour processing; there didn’t seem too much criticism levelled at its lacklustre, cliché-ridden script and its portrayal of women, oddly.

For quite some time, there was talk of a sequel. A box-office smash and a critical darling, a follow-up seemed depressingly inevitable. Talks stalled and started, stars were attached and unattached, Miller humiliated himself with The Spirit and Rodriguez made another goddamn Spy Kids movie. But then, finally, 2012 hobbled along and principal photography got underway, seven years after the original. Fast forward to 2014 and here we are.

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, released a full nine years later (and probably seven too late), picks up where the original left off: Rampant violence, women in bondage gear and endless rolling streams of gravel-bollocked noir one-liners. In 3D! In all honesty, there were several points in which I had to squint at the screen to ensure the CGI roads the actors were ‘driving’ on hadn’t leapt up from their moorings and galloped down into their throats because Christ alive the film couldn’t get much more gravelly.

So what sets A Dame to Kill For apart from the original? Some cast changes aside, nothing. Nothing whatsoever. It’s the same shtick, in 3D(!). Either way, it takes the unearthly powers of Eva Green to elevate this material beyond its cookie-cutter, facsimile nature. Funnily enough, this is the second film this year to star Eva Green in a pre-sequel which sees her giving, by far, the best performance in the film. It’s also the second film this year to have her bucko naked for the majority of the running time, in 3D(!).

While her (mainly male) co-stars largely speak their lines in indistinct concrete mumbles – Josh Brolin and Mickey Rourke being the main offenders – Green revels in her role as the exhibitionist black widow she-bitch Ava, snapping from helpless, panda-eyed victim to conniving seductress with total ease. Along with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cocky young gambler, it’s a breath of fresh air in a film that’s overwhelmed by staidness, the pall of been-here-done-that.

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The familiarity is alleviated through some brief and deeply enjoyable cameos from Christopher Lloyd and Ray Liotta; among the returning cast, Jessica Alba and Powers Boothe also give fine performances. The trouble is that none of these characters receive enough depth to shine as they really could have done.

Perhaps it’s a consequence of the chronologically disrupted vignette narrative – a la Pulp Fiction with a generous dollop of pulp – but none of the stories beyond Green and Brolin’s receive enough attention. Though there are connections between them, most notably through Rourke’s Marv and Boothe’s Senator, there aren’t enough concrete links. The lack of substantial connectivity also hinders the characters; there’s the hint that the world of Basin City is living and breathing but it never quite manages to come together.

The direction from Miller and Rodriguez is stellar, of course; the visuals are even moreso, even if the only real difference from the original is the change from snow to rain as the primary vehicle for pathetic fallacy. The splashes of colour are as striking as ever; splotches of blood, golden hair, burning green eyes, blue coats; all distracting us from the fact we’ve had to watch Jessica Alba twerk inconsequentially for the seventh time in an hour.

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We’ve seen all this before. Any verve that sparked the original film has long gone. Now, if they didn’t before, the ceaseless reams of hardboiled snarling from apathetic men with nothing to lose seem juvenile, while the depiction of women as either victim or sex object is deeply unsettling. We shouldn’t expect much more from Miller, whose work has far too often carried a lurking sense of misogyny, but Rodriguez must also share some of the responsibility as his creative partner.

I can’t say A Dame to Kill For isn’t enjoyable. It’s very entertaining when it breaks out of its noir-flecked gimmickry; when the action sequences kick in, we suddenly remember that Robert Rodriguez is an action director, his cartoonish levels of violence cockpunching some life into an otherwise rather monotonous affair.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? A Dame to Kill For is pretty dull, even at a relatively trim 102 minutes. We’re ground down by gutter-growl internal monologue, pulp clichés and mean streets philosophising. It’s derivative even of itself, a fact reflected by its failure to recoup its budget at the box office. There’s nothing at the heart of this city.

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