Movie Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For suffers from stagnation

What seemed groundbreaking a decade ago now seems dated, and can't be saved by the arrival of Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Your phone rings and it’s that out-of-touch friend you only talk to twice a year, those aimless, empty conversations you dread because they all go exactly the same way: five minutes of the latest tricks and the awkward half-hour of old times to follow, most of which you spend distracted by trying to think up an excuse to get off the line after an acceptable duration. You stick it out because you love the friend dearly and value your shared history, but that doesn’t keep you from eventually wanting to gnaw your leg off and scamper away as the chat drags on.

That’s about what it’s like to watch Sin City: A Dame to Kill For; it’s great to see it for a little bit, but then the same old thing gets stale and you can’t ignore the shortcomings that were always there but are now just that much more evident. The noir stylings and MS Paint blood splashes just aren’t as fresh this time; the vignettes aren’t as skillfully interwoven; and the characters you fell in love with only inspire a mild infatuation. Once fresh and exciting, the franchise has devolved into a style-over-content fiasco that not even Eva Green’s breasts can save.

Dame kicks off with some familiar, raspy ramblings from Marv (Mickey Rourke), Sin City’s resident sociopathic Terminator. There are dead bodies around and he doesn’t know where he’s going or where he’s been, not even where he got such a damn fine coat. Time to find out.

Cue Johnny Come Lately (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the new kid in town, a sharp, fresh-faced gambler/ass-kicker on a mission: to clean out Senator Rourke (Powers Boothe). He lands a game in the back room at Kadie’s, where everyone who’s everyone (or in the movie) hangs out. Out front in the show bar, Nancy (Jessica Alba) is drowning in a bottle and her grief for the dearly departed Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). This mourning maiden sees a monster in the mirror, so Johnny better get in line — he’s not the only one after the senator.

And then there’s Dwight (Josh Brolin), the handsome and well-intentioned would-be hero who does the right thing and falls for the wrong women. In this case it’s old flame Ava (Green), a femme fatale in the guise of a damsel-in-distress. This titular dame to kill for might never be in trouble, but she seemingly always is trouble.

While not exactly a prequel, the Sin City universe employs a non-linear timestream, so some characters that die in the first flick can be alive in the second for events that seemingly predate the first outing, while other shenanigans clearly take place later. That’s not hard to wrap one’s head around. Chronologically, the real problem the film has is that it’s nigh a decade since the Sin City originally rocked our socks off in 2005, hence the once-fresh grimy world of guns, gals and gore falling flat.

Dame takes another hit from some recast characters, with Brolin stepping into Dwight’s red Converse, previously worn by Clive Owen. Rarely will it be said that Josh Brolin is a downgrade, but if ever there was a time, it’s this. By necessity, Dennis Haysbert fills in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan as the monstrous Manute; his effort is admirable, but there’s just no replacing such a man. The difference between Jeremy Piven’s take on Detective Bob and that of Michael Madsen’s original is pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

Bottom line: A Dame to Kill For ain’t worth doing the time.

2.5 out of 5 stars
Rated R. Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. Starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Powers Boothe. Opens Friday, Aug. 22.

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