Thursday, August 21, 2014

A return trip to 'Sin City'

It's lurid and creative, but what's the point?
It's rare that one's expectations are entirely met by a movie -- and it's not always a good thing when it happens.

Case in point: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Prior to the movie's preview screening, I imagined that this follow-up to Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's 2005 Sin City would be another stylish immersion in a fantasy world composed of pulp impulses, noir gestures, brutal violence and fan-boy prurience.

Miller is a graphic novelist and sometime moviemaker. Rodriguez is a director of variable achievement. Together, they again serve up a movie that feels as if one is leafing through the pages of a graphic novel, entering a purportedly forbidden world where politicians are murderous, women are dressed for sex and half the male characters look as if they're mutants from an another planet.

And, yes, the movie is precisely what you expect.

Rodriguez and Miller create a world of uber-shlock that seems to derive from an exaggerated reading of noir ingredients and second-rate pulp fiction.

Noir, of course, had a socially critical dimension that completely eludes this second helping of Sin City. Besides, in combining several of Miller's stories, the movie challenges one's ability to sustain interest.

This helping of Sin City -- in which occasional splashes of color intrude on the heightened black-and-white imagery -- features a scorecard cast of names, some recognizable on screen, some not.

Among those who stand out are Josh Brolin, who takes over the role that Clive Owen played in the original; Eva Green, who plays the movie's sexy, deadly femme fatale; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars in what ultimately feels like a satellite story about a young man who's lucky in cards and not so lucky at everything else.

Powers Boothe portrays the brutally smooth Senator Roark, a politician for whom the word "corrupt" would be a euphemism. Mickey Rourke returns as Marv, the freakish looking, motor-cycle riding avenger.

Some of the actors have extended roles, some (Ray Liotta as a lecherous businessman who's caught with his pants down) have cameos.

In the movie's best story, Brolin's character is irresistibly drawn to the duplicitous Ava. No matter what his brain tells him, he can't resist her siren call.

Miller and Rodriguez can't seamlessly blend the movie's several stories, and when the primary tale -- the one involving Green's Ava ends -- the movie essentially is over.

The rest feels like a death rattle, an obligatory advancement of loose ends that march zombie-like through what remains of the movie's 102-minute running time.

Devotees of Miller's work probably will be won over by the snide humor and outre violence. At one point, one of the character's eyes is plucked out.

But Sin City: A Dame to Kill For seems like a lot of work devoted to building a fantasy edifice that may tell us more about the sensibilities of those who dreamed up the fantasy than about the world it purports to describe.

To get back to where I started: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is exactly what I thought it would be: creative, lurid, immature, and, perhaps, a bit pointless.

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