Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" opens Friday, nine years after their critically appreciated 2005 "Sin City" and promising more sex, violence, shadows and noir-y intrigue.
An unabashed fan of the first installment, I was knocked out by the then-revolutionary way that CG-adept Rodriguez brought Miller's percussive graphics to life. This time around I was still seduced by the film's sleek visuals. But that initial glow wears off fast, as each sequence repeats the same pattern without reprieve: set-up, face-off, blam-blam-blam. Every character is a type: the women are shallow femme fatales, the guys are dumb dicks. Yes, as uber-villain Roark Powers Boothe's eyes glitter with malice and Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a fine job as a young gambler who can't resist winning, even if he has to pay the price. And somehow, just like the first time, Mickey Rourke manages to rise above the material as the one bigger-than-life superhero. Everyone else goes through their all-too familiar paces, from often naked Eva Green to her besotted lover Josh Brolin (filling in for Clive Owen).
It's also hard to imagine audiences flocking to see this. Weinstein Co. could use a hit at this point. Nine years ago the original delivered a surprise $158 million worldwide.
As for the notices so far? (The Tomatometer sits at 47% right now.) Well, let's just say that the critics aren't finding the 3D color palette the only thing about the film that's monotone. Here's a look at some of the early reviews.
Variety: It may be in 3D this time around, but Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s monotone, monochrome comicbook universe feels flatter than ever in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” Rare indeed is the movie that features this many bared breasts, pummeled crotches and severed noggins and still leaves you checking your watch every 10 minutes. But that’s the dubious accomplishment of this visually arresting but grimly repetitive exercise in style, set against a sordid neo-noir landscape populated almost exclusively by tormented tough guys and femme-fatale fetish objects.
The Hollywood Reporter: There are other occasional highlights, including a titanic fight between Marv and Ava's warrior chauffeur Manute, a role first played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan and now by Dennis Haysbert, and a final showdown involving the vile Roark. But the big problem here is the sameness of the material throughout, the one-note tone. Every scene is given the same weight — there's no modulation, no sense of drama beyond mannered posturing, a feeling that the whole enterprise is about capturing a retro look and attitude and nothing else. The lack of any substance at all is what makes the Sin City franchise feel cheap, in the end. As an exercise in style, it's diverting enough, but these mean streets are so well traveled that it takes someone like Eva Green to make the detour through them worth the trip.
Rolling Stone: When the script isn't playing catchup, Miller adds a few new wrinkles. The always welcome Joseph Gordon-Levitt hits Sin City as Johnny, a young gambler who dares to take on Roark in a game of high stakes poker. Big mistake. And Eva Green, a living, breathing definition of steamy, plays – you guessed it – a dame to kill for. It's not hard for this dame to wrap P.I. Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) around her sexy finger. Wait. Didn't Clive Owen play Dwight the last time? He did. And asking questions like that will only make this sequel more of a laborious puzzle. The upshot is that Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is forced to trade on the kick the first film gave us. And that kick now suffers from stiff joints. The compensations, like Lady Gaga doing a cheeky cameo as barmaid who tells a customer she can't find anything that isn't good about the way he smells, can't make up for the way the movie starts to smell like a lazy, repetitive do-over.
Slant: It's Miller's contributions, including the script, that stall the film out. His world is noir on steroids, which precludes the most memorable and crucial elements of the noir genre. There's no danger, no patience, no true mystery to Miller's world, which jumps between the barbed doings of bruisers like Dwight (Josh Brolin), Marv (Mickey Rourke), Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and, finally, Nancy, all of whom are after Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), Sin City's absurdly corrupt head honcho. The script is overrun with talk and voiceover, and the directors rarely allow the atmosphere to speak for itself, as they're constantly cutting to more rampant action. In a sense, the film is a mescaline-fueled parody of noir, but its creators have absolutely nothing to say about the genre it's both mocking and clearly indebted to. Whereas a single, stinging one-liner would have sufficed Jacques Tourneur or Fritz Lang, Miller's overcompensating flood of pulpy dialogue only renders his characters flat and sans empathy.