Film / Reviews

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: 'seedy, hardboiled cliches turned up to 11'

by Giovanni Fazio

Special To The Japan Times

In the realm of comic book movies, director Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City” (2005) was a notable exception. Where most such movies think the idea is to make comic books look less like the printed page and more like the “real world,” Rodriguez pivoted hard in the other direction, trying as much as possible to make his film look like the expressionist, high-contrast black-and-white pages of Frank Miller’s original graphic novels. To put it simply, Rodriguez was one of the only people to get that comic books have something to offer beyond far-fetched plots and superpowers. Namely, a look.

No doubt having original author Frank Miller on board as co-director went a long way to making that happen, but Rodriguez single-handedly pioneered the use of green screen, postproduction set design and digital coloring to give his film an iconic, pulp-noir vibe. It turned out to be his finest moment. In the decade since, nothing else he has done — junk like the endless “Spy Kids” sequels or the “Grindhouse” spinoff “Machete” — has captured the public’s imagination like the eye-popping “Sin City” did.

So it’s not surprising that Rodriguez has chosen to revisit the material, only that it took him a decade to do it. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” — again made with Frank Miller — is both a prequel and sequel to the original, and won’t make much sense if you haven’t seen the first one. More so than the first “Sin City” even, “A Dame to Kill For” wallows in seedy, hardboiled cliches turned up to 11, seeming even more like a fabled lost novel of crime writer Jim Thompson, written after a three-day tequila bender where he couldn’t meet the bill, was slipped a mickey, stripped naked and thrown into a cactus patch.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Sin City: Fukushu no Megami)
Rating
Director Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Run Time 102 minutes
Language English

Mickey Rourke’s fatalistic but chivalrous lunkhead Marv is resurrected from the first film, as is Bruce Willis’ last-day-on-the-force detective John Hartigan, while Jessica Alba is back as dive-bar exotic dancer Nancy (with an ass-slapping go-go routine that is destined for YouTube fame). Rosario Dawson’s Gail is still lording it over the deadly streetwalkers of Old Town, but Jamie Chung replaces Devon Aoki as mute ninja-assassin Miho.

Newcomers include Josh Brolin (replacing Clive Owen) as a paparazzi with a violent past who’s being set up as the fall guy by his former lover/hooker Ava, played with demonic relish by Eva Green, who seems to be the logical conclusion of six decades’ worth of film-noir femmes fatales. There’s no better B-movie actress out there nowadays — Green is this generation’s Barbara Steele.

This “Sin City” is predictably as ultraviolent as anything Rodriguez has made. He remains a director who cannot look at a chair without thinking it would be better on film with someone being beaten to a pulp while tied to it. Thankfully, it’s all so abstracted it’s rarely disturbing — blood explodes in white splashes against the high-contrast black backgrounds.

The dialogue still sounds like Mickey Spillane taking a meat cleaver to his typewriter, with lines like “There’s no reason to leave anyone alive, nobody’s innocent. Don’t go soft on me, kid.” It’s also worth mentioning that there is barely one female character in the film who is dressed in more than lingerie. But Rodriguez’s films have zero interest in political correctness and aim squarely for pure salacious appeal. In that sense, he upholds the true B-movie aesthetic in a way that few feature filmmakers do nowadays. It’s too violent, too sexy, too absurd, too cruel, too everything, really. But compared to the corporate pablum of Marvel Comics’ universe, “Sin City” has character, and that’s often a redeeming charm.

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