This Dame is Pretty but Not Worth Killing For
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Review by Daniel Rester
The original Sin City film was a game changer when it was released back in 2005, advancing techniques in how filmmakers could use green screen effects. Now we finally have the long-awaited sequel in the form of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, again based on the graphic novel series by Frank Miller. Unfortunately Dame adds up to a sequel that is too little, too late.
Dame is directed by Robert Rodriguez and Miller himself again. Much of the original cast returns as well, including Mickey Rourke (as Marv), Jessica Alba (as Nancy Callahan), Rosario Dawson (as Gail), Powers Boothe (as Senator Roark), and Bruce Willis (as John Hartigan). We also get fresh newcomers like Eva Green (as Ava, the dame in the title), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as Johnny), and Josh Brolin (as Dwight McCarthy, replacing Clive Owen).
This film, like the last, splits the runtime up into multiple plots. Dame has four of them that intersect in ways, with two being based on the source material. The small plot “Just Another Saturday Night” finds Marv fighting some frat boys over making remarks about his appearance. “A Dame to Kill For” takes place before “The Big Fat Kill” in the first film, with Dwight getting caught up with former lover and femme fatale Ava.
Miller also created two new stories just for this film. One of them, “The Long Bad Night,” finds cocky young gambler Johnny going up against the dangerous Senator Roark. Then we have “Nancy’s Last Dance,” set four years after the “The Yellow Bastard” plot from the first film. This story finds Nancy struggling with depression since Hartigan killed himself, which he was driven to do by Senator Roark. Nancy eventually teams up with Marv to seek vengeance for this.
These intertwining stories sound more interesting than they actually are. “Just Another Saturday Night” is just an opener, while “A Dame to Kill For” takes up the majority of the runtime. Unfortunately “Dame” is the most ineffective story of the bunch, which brings the movie into a lull quite a bit. Brolin mostly growls narration that contains thick and pulpy words during this section. Meanwhile Green overacts and gets nude a lot while the talents of Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, and Juno Temple are wasted in small cameos in needless subplots for this section. Only Dawson spices this part up a bit with her determination and playfulness as Gail.
“The Long Bad Night” is arguably the best section, with Gordon-Levitt’s talents always welcome. It’s fun to see him and Boothe – who is menacing as Roark – go head to head in playing backstage poker. Johnny’s narration and actions also come across smoother, whereas a lot of the other players’ moves make the film seem like a self-parody at times.
“Nancy’s Last Dance” amps up the revenge element and sees Nancy become more of a bad-ass. Alba does have more to do in this film altogether, though the majority of the time she still just dances and has a mopey look on her face. “Dance” is mostly effective due to Rourke, while Willis basically just stands around in a cameo appearance. Rourke makes the part of Marv his own again, making the character an intimidating but likable beast who knows how to take down seedy people.
The translation of Miller’s work to film simply worked better the first time around. The stories this time just don’t flow as well together and a lot of the scenes come across as more dull than eye-opening. With a film packed with bullets blazing and swords swinging, it really should be more exciting than it is. But without the strong writing to back those things up they are simply rendered ineffective for the most part. Yes, the writing is creative and sharp at times, but it is also too in love with itself and reliant on heavy-handed narration as a method. Noir writing to me should have more mystery and playfulness than this material does.
One can’t fault Rodriguez and Miller in not delivering on style. Dame certainly looks beautiful and slick with its monochrome black and white aesthetic splashed with occasional bright colors. The production design and jazz music lend some neo-noir genre flavor as well. But once again, all of this had more of a punch the first time around.
Dame is ultimately cool to look at but pretty hollow in terms of hard-hitting storytelling. I have loved some of Rodriguez’s work throughout his career, and I wish he had been a bit looser and livelier with his directorial touches here – as he has done with other films. Instead Dame feels flat most of the time, too manufactured in detailed design (it all feels more built rather than organic) and not strong enough in terms of interesting characters or rich emotions. There are rumors that a third film may be on the way. Let’s hope it doesn’t take nine years to make and that it turns out more entertaining than this entry.
Score: 2 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: C).
MPAA Rating: R (for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use).
Runtime: 1 hour and 42 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: August 22nd, 2014.