I’ve never been a great admirer of Robert Rodriguez. Like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard the forty six year old Texas born filmmaker is a self-taught “student of cinema,” a one man crew—often times assuming the role of editor and director of photography in addition to directing—and like Tarantino, he has an affinity for trashy exploitation cinema. However, unlike Tarantino, Rodriguez doesn’t quite have the same ability to take that movie love and transform it into something very unique and substantial. He’s made fun movies in the past—“From Dusk Till Dawn”—but even his best movies have more style than substance.
I’m not exactly sure why but after he made the 2007 Grindhouse homage “Planet Terror,” he began repeating himself. He came out with yet another Grindhouse parody “Machete”—based on a fake trailer made for “Planet Terror”—a mildly entertaining popcorn movie but the joke had already been mostly played out. After that he went on to make a fourth “Spy Kids” movie—one that used Smell-o-vision, I might add—and then a “Machete” sequel entitled “Machete Kills.” And now he’s made yet another sequel, this time to 2005’s “Sin City” with “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”
And like “Machete Kills,” “Dame” is repetitive, boring, misogynistic and ultimately pointless.
The original “Sin City” was a solid picture; old-fashioned Film noir with comic-book physics. Characters can jump off high buildings without getting hurt. It’s essentially a male comic-book nerd’s dark, seedy interpretation of film noir. In “Sin City” the males are hardboiled vigilantes spouting Phillip Marlow-esque dialogue or despicable sadists, while the women are either hookers or strippers. Though what made the original slightly more interesting than an average pulp crime picture was the dazzling visual style that walked the line between animation and live action. The black and white, rainy, dreary panels—with splashes of color-- from Frank Miller’s original comic books were brought to life on the big screen. All the environments were added in via postproduction and the actors were coated in digital makeup.
The same visual style is back in “A Dame to Kill For” and it’s really the only thing that makes the movie somewhat watchable. At the same time, Rodriguez and co-director Miller don’t bring any new innovation to the visual style. The movie is all visual sensation but it’s the same visual sensation we saw nine years ago. Nothing has evolved. The same action set pieces are repeated again and again; characters jumping out of windows, not one but two mansions belonging to baddies are infiltrated by the protagonists, and endless scenes of strippers dancing. My God is there a lot of stripping! (But more on that and the film’s overall treatment of women in a moment). Visual flourishes like when characters on screen turn into white silhouettes against a solid black background are done and overdone. In fact they were overdone already in the first one.
The movie consists of thinly written yet still confusing vignettes—all involving revenge in some way or another—that are vaguely connected but don’t flow with each other very well and contain hollow shells of characters. All the characters from the first movie are back—minus the ones who died—but they may as well be new ones. The key purpose of sequels is to deepen the characters and further explore the world; “A Dame to Kill For” does neither. We learn nothing new about these people. Mickey Rourke as the hardened character Marv was one of the best parts about the original and yet in the sequel he’s left playing second fiddle to the less interesting characters Nancy (Jessica Alba) and Dwight (Josh Brolin) as they carry out their various revenge plots. Brolin does the best he can with the part but unfortunately he’s saddled with the film’s stupidest moment. After being double-crossed and beaten up by a devious dame Ava (Eva Green), his plan is to infiltrate her mansion disguised as an assassin hired to kill Dwight. The only thing is, his “disguise” consists of a new hairdo. That’s it. No changes to his face. Nothing. And he’s instantly discovered. Honestly, what were Rodriguez and Miller thinking when they wrote that?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes a small impression as Johnny, a fresh faced, cocky gambler that gets in over his head when he arrives in Sin City. Though even he’s reduced to a tiny vignette—split into two parts—that mostly consists of him winning in poker and getting beat up for it, only to end in a disappointing anticlimax.
However, it’s the female characters that are given nothing to do. Nothing to do except look sexy. Again, they’re all either hookers or prostitutes. Is this a world that Rodriguez and Miller would like to live in? For God’s sake, an entire section of the town is run by prostitutes. And perhaps what’s most frustrating about it is that the two directors probably think they’re writing strong female characters. While these strippers and hookers do tote guns and do a fair share of ass kicking they’re still wearing skimpy outfits and they’re still hookers and strippers.
Eva Green’s diabolical Femme Fatale controls men through sex—revolutionary, right? —which wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t spend three quarters of her part naked. Lying in a bathtub nude, lying on a carpet nude, going for nightly swim in her outdoor pool… nude. And poor Jessica Alba; she spends the majority of her role stripping at a strip club, or guzzling vodka. Not saying a word. Alba’s not a great actor by any stretch but give her something more to do, please!
I could go on and on. The constant Film noir narration by the multiple characters gets annoying. I know narration is a trademark of the genre but even the great classic noir protagonists didn’t talk over every scene. In “Sin City” no detail is left undescribed. Probably because Rodriguez and Miller have nothing much to show.
I hate to write off Rodriguez as a filmmaker but based on the way he’s going now—making sequels that no one asked for—I’d say he hasn’t an original idea left. Nothing new to put on the table. I’ve never had much excitement or anticipation for a Rodriguez movie before but now I don’t have any. It’s as simple as that.