There it is, on the marquee. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” A sequel, in the summer. Who woulda saw that coming.
It’s dark, this movie. Not just because it’s all filmed to look like Frank Miller’s graphic novels. All white lines against black background. Occasionally color will sneak in — explosive red lips, emerald eyes, a blue dress, a gold eye. Mostly it’s blacker than the smoke off a burning tire.
The dialogue, too. It has this hard-boiled edge. All clipped sentences and pulp-noir similes. But those don’t always work, like balky free WiFi. See, like that.
Most of the backstory comes to us through these pruned sentences. Sometimes that’s in two people talking. Usually it’s with a character’s thoughts. Not all that much gets explained. Everyone seems bummed out. No wonder. Sin City is a dingy desert city where the blood sprays in white fountains out of severed heads and Uzi wounds. It’s not even so cheery as kill-or-be-killed. Usually it’s kill-and-then-get-killed-anyway.
Mickey Rourke is back as a bruiser named Marv. He has a sweet spot for breaking bad guys’ bones and for a dancer, Nancy. She’s Jessica Alba and a sight to behold for the lowlifes at Kadie’s Club Pecos. Card game in the back of that bar gets a cocky sharp played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt crossways with a ruthless politician (Powers Boothe) who doesn’t take well to losing.
And then there’s poor Josh Brolin as Dwight, a P.I. who’s wrapped around the titular brunette. Eva Green was born in Paris, and she plays Ava in the style of a vampy doll on vacation in the French Riviera. Directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez don’t leave you guessing why she is considered a dame to kill for. Like the similes, her shirts don’t always work, either.
The cast is good. Real good. The cinematography is indelible. But the writing limps. Miller falls so hard for the old-style noir dialogue that all his characters seem to be speaking from the same mind. They aren’t distinct. They punch and drink and shoot and get pummeled and barter medical attention for the shoes off their feet. You could swap one in for the next. The good guys are good with a thick bad stripe. The bad guys are bad with an extra coat of bad, just for bad measure. And there you have it.
At a certain point a film has to do more than just over-saturate the screen with bullets and broads to be interesting. Where’s the sense of risk? The sense of joy? For all its bravado, “A Dame to Kill For” plays its hand fairly straight. Pack enough malice and atrocity into a film and before long it all runs together in a stream of severed heads and ripped-out eyeballs and roadside suicides and arrows to the neck. Dark doesn’t have to be this dreary.