In the opening scenes of this belated follow-up to the 2005 movie Sin City, we open up in a bar, full of drunken slobs, all ogling Jessica Alba as she does a scantily dressed dance on stage. Mickey Rourke, returning as “Marv” under layers of makeup, is in the audience, and the scene oozes with carefully orchestrated sleaze. Instead of feeling happy to be back in the world of Frank Miller’s pulp noir world, all I could think was, “I’ve seen this before.” I knew the movie lost me when the first of many close-ups of Ms. Alba’s derriere made me roll my eyes with déjà vu.
The story: Alba’s tormented dancer is longing for her slain savior (Bruce Willis, in a very small, awkward cameo). She seeks revenge from a gleefully evil senator (Powers Boothe, appearing to have a blast). We also meet a card shark (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whose good luck takes a violent turn. Meanwhile, a horny lug (Josh Brolin) can’t resist the charms of his femme fatale ex (Eva Green), who apparently hates wearing clothes.
Robert Rodriguez’s film resembles a Raymond Chandler nightmare, shot in faux black and white (it looks digital and lacks the beauty of a real black and white film). Certain characters and pieces of their attire are randomly in color, a beauty of an effect this movie utilizes from the first scene to the last. I found the first movie to be over-praised, particularly in its technique. While many claimed the style of Rodriguez’s film to be groundbreaking, he simply took a great visual, established briefly in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish and Lars Von Trier’s Europa, and extended it for the entire running time. Also, despite the good character work, the stories were more grotesque than gripping.
In the original, I was blown away by Rourke’s humanity as a brute (Marv is more a story gimmick than a tragic figure this time), loved the Willis/Alba tale and was disinterested in the rest of the gallery of criminals. In this second helping, I never connected with any of these people, despite a few good performances. Brolin, more than any of his co-stars, seems like he was born in Sin City, Green plays her role to the hilt and Alba’s backside once again outshines her acting. I missed Carla Gugino. Levitt and Dennis Haysbert seemed out of place and I was proud of myself for recognizing Stacey Keach under pounds of makeup.
It’s refreshing to see a comic book movie devoid of heroes, super or otherwise, a reminder that graphic novels (and their film adaptations) aren’t always for children. Unlike the shoddy Machete Kills, Rodriguez has made a real movie. Yet, I think he’s taken Sin City as far as it can go.
The intentionally tawdry dialogue felt especially stale (even Brolin can’t sell the moldy “I was born at night, not last night”). Aside from the non-stop misogyny (a Film Noir staple, unfortunately) and gore, the stories don’t have a real kick. These supposedly shocking tales are as long in the tooth as Marv.
Film goers old enough to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie can ogle naked women and some inventively cruel beatings. You get actors in various degrees of undress (everyone from Green to Ray Liotta bares some skin), movie stars sporting hideous disfigurements and some cool imagery but this is a freak show with visual panache and little else. Style is everything here but these twisted tales of perversion and moral rot only deliver hollow excess.
Once again Rodriguez is overly faithful to the source material. Rather than mimicking the frames of Miller’s comic books, how about making us care?