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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sin City - A Dame to Kill For Review: Uninspired Overly-Sexualized Follow-up

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For knows what it wants, but utterly misses in its execution.
The folly of returning to an old franchise nearly 10 years after it was made has proven to be difficult at best and disastrous at worst. Whether it's expectation or the passage of time, film series that see such lapses hardly ever work out. This year's 300: Rise of an Empire was engaging in its leads, but it failed to attract audiences who saw the original as their Holy Bible of Violence. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For only strengthens my theory that all series have a shelf life.

Wrapping three stories of life in crime-ridden Sin City, we follow the further adventures of the bruiser Marv (Mickey Rourke), dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba), and anti-hero Dwight (Josh Brolin), as well as new ones by the gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Some want money, others respect, and a couple just want to wash away their demons. But the city always throws up obstacles like Senator Roark (Powers Booth), the black widow Ava (Eva Green), and her massive bodyguard Manute (Dennis Haysbert), all of whom want Sin City to retain its well-earned name. As its most hard-boiled residents - including Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her militarized sex kittens - get caught in the crossfire, the city gets ready to claim another life under its mean and unforgiving streets.

The original Sin City succeeded so completely because it mixed a modernized noir script with appealing characters and an intoxicating blend of ultra-violence and sexuality. Dame simply slathers on the sex, dials down the violence, and hacks almost every character we come into contact with...and I don't mean 'hack' like cut them in two, although that does occur as well. The only redeeming quality appears to be Green, an actress who knows how to sell her sex like a shrewd businesswoman. There's few times when she's actually clothed, but her dark gazes and manipulative assets could draw in the most chaste man or woman. She seduces everyone, from Dwight to an SC detective played by Christopher Meloni with perfect suavity and a killer body to boot.

But a story must endure above the sex - see Nymphomaniac and Green's The Dreamers - and Dame never seeds anything of value, taking us on what feels like a 2-hour death march of character drama that feels tired and generally uninspired. We get it: Sin City is a cesspit with innocents ground down under its wheels. But it seems completely incapable of taking that element beyond skin deep, content to brandish its weapons, women, and corruption without elevating itself in the least. After Green is seen nude for the 12th or 13th time, the gyrations of Nancy - icing on the cake in the original - are more like dialed-in tease than a nerd's bondage fantasies come to life.

Confident in what it has but unable to successfully execute it, Directors Miller and Robert Rodriguez never gift us with a new set of memorable moments that made the original so enjoyable. Performances are mostly good enough (again, Green standing above everyone else), and the visuals are great once again. But our team also produces a menagerie of forgettable secondary characters who fail to stick around long enough for us to care about them, and ignore telling deeper stories about returning characters Marv and Gail. He's still the blunt weapon and she's still the ruler over her part of town, blah blah blah. Rather than upping the stakes and editing the runtime for maximum effect, Miller and Rodriguez tell one story too many. Alba should have followed Willis's smart decision to remain a pseudo-cameo and instead given us a dance for the ages. Instead, she gets her revenge on what becomes a wholly unsatisfying affair.

There was a time when films like Sin City and 300 threatened to re-imagine the Hollywood assembly line of making movies. Sadly, both returned this year worse for wear, missing core elements that separated themselves from the traditional action film. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For feels like old hat, regardless of its extraordinary visuals. In many ways, Hollywood has finally eclipsed these franchises, giving us the sex and violence we want with the deeper political intrigue we need. To say Sin City started it all would be about as much credit as I'm willing to give. Any other positive statements about this follow-up would simply be untrue.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use and has a runtime of 102 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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