The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

I loved Sin City. So much so, in fact, that it was #5 on my list of the ten best films of 2005, nestled right in between Brokeback Mountain and Crash. A sequel was in the works for years, and it became something of a running joke among fans that every time it was supposed to formally begin production, word would come that there was some sort of delay. Nine years later, we finally get Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely not.

As in the original, the film follows the exploits of various lowlifes living in Sin City. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, a gambler who takes on the city's biggest and most dangerous player, Senator Roark (Powers Booth). Josh Brolin is Dwight, a character played by Clive Owen in the original. He tries to help his ex, Ava (Eva Green), escape from an abusive husband, only to discover that she's not as helpless as she appears. Mickey Rourke returns as Marv, the disfigured brute, as does Jessica Alba as Nancy the stripper. He's a bit of a vigilante, taking it upon himself to get rid of the city's seediest residents, while she is haunted by memories of cop John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Like Johnny, Nancy also wants Roark taken down.

Based on the graphic novel series by Frank Miller, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has the same stark, stylized look as the original movie. It is presented in vivid black-and-white, with certain objects or people colorized for impact. It also shares the same down-and-dirty quality, focusing on bad people doing bad things, while occasionally showing glimpses of the humanity buried somewhere inside. That was a captivating mixture the first time around, much less so here.

Perhaps the single biggest reason the sequel pales in comparison to the first one is the way the stories are paced. In Sin City, each individual plot thread played out in a manner that had continuity to it. A Dame to Kill For, on the other hand, stops and starts things to the point where it's difficult to become fully invested in its narratives. The film begins with a little bit of Marv's story, then intros Nancy's. That abruptly stops, and we switch over to Johnny's story. Just when that tale is getting interesting, it too screeches to a halt. At this point, the Dwight/Ava plot plays out in its entirety. Then it's back to finish Johnny, then Nancy. Marv's tale kind of folds into hers, making his presence here feel more perfunctory than anything. (He was the breakout character from the original.) The storytelling has a distracting, halting quality that kills any dramatic momentum. And whereas the first film wove the stories together seamlessly, A Dame to Kill For feels like it's jamming pieces from different puzzles into each other. That may be due to the fact that two of the threads – Johnny's and Nancy's – are not from any of Miller's Sin City books. They've been created specifically for the screen.

The thing I most strongly remember from Sin City was the feeling that it was walking a high-wire. There was a fearlessness to the movie, both visually and thematically, that was kind of breathtaking. It felt as though director Robert Rodriguez and Miller (who co-directed) were aiming high as could be to give audiences something thoroughly new. In contrast, A Dame to Kill For feels like old hat. It's more than a simple case of “been there, done that” - it's genuine stagnancy. How did this happen? One can only theorize, but here goes. A possible explanation is that Miller did more of the directing this time than Rodriguez did. The film plays more like his dud The Spirit than it does like Sin City. It's paced disjointedly, and often feels clumsily assembled.

Another possible explanation is that Rodriguez is simply spinning his wheels. The filmmaker has shown a knack for energetic, fast-paced movies, but also a troubling tendency to Xerox copy his own work to death. Four Spy Kids movies that steadily decreased in quality. Three El Mariachi films. Two Machete pictures after the original Grindhouse short. Too much repetition can be the death of creativity. He might need to go make something original again, to get his mojo flowing.

Both of those ideas are pure speculation. For whatever the reasons, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For lacks the high-intensity kick that its predecessor had. The actors are fine and the visuals are still cool. But overall, the film kind of slogs along, never achieving anything close to the hypnotic, edgy buzz that fans, myself included, are certainly looking for during another trip into Sin City.

( out of four)

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.

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