2014 - 102 minutes
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Written by: Frank Miller
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Bruce Willis
A quick recap of Robert Rodriguez’s output since 2007’s Grindhouse: Machete and Machete Kills (each born from one of the faux trailers of Grindhouse), Spy Kids 4, and a TV version of his nearly 20-year-old (and still great) From Dusk Till Dawn. The well of ideas has apparently run dry. Next up on the genre recycle list is a sequel to the decade-old Sin City. Its post-colon title is A Dame to Kill For, though only a third of the film is dedicated to that particular story of Frank Miller’s graphic novel series. Not that that matters; the film as a whole is a pulpy mass of a visual style that is no longer fresh, a barrage of savage beatings, and neo-noir metaphors staler than Rodriguez’s current career trajectory.
Simultaneously a prequel and a sequel, A Dame to Kill For picks up with brute Marv (Mickey Rourke) beating up those even less desirable than him and watching/protecting his favorite stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba). It’s funny how the most desirable stripper at the seediest joint in a seedy town never actually strips, but maybe that makes her even more mysterious or desirable (or it’s just that Alba has an ironclad contact regarding the matter). Finding solace at the bottom of a bottle, Nancy is still depressed over the death of her other protector, detective Hartigan (Bruce Willis, who was surely paid handsomely for a half-day’s work as an ineffective ghostly figure here), and plots revenge against evil senator Roark (Powers Boothe).
Meanwhile, perpetually lucky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) descends on Sin City and quickly makes a name for himself and angers the wrong people. And Dwight (Josh Brolin, taking over Clive Ownen’s role in the original) fails to fend off the charms of former flame Ava (Eva Green, who spends much of her screentime topless or in a see-through robe). She claims she needs protection against an abusive husband and his bodyguard Manute (Dennis Haysbert), but, obviously, has ulterior motives.
Ray Liotta, Christopher Lloyd, Juno Temple, Jamie King, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, and Rosario Dawson appear to chew some scenery and serve fans of the previous film and the graphic novels. It would be better fan service if any of them were given anything interesting to do. The cast is actually quite good with what is required of them – Green stands out for more than her gratuitous nudity and makes a formidable femme fatale, while Alba hits the rights notes of torment and vengefulness. Brolin and Rourke are each appropriately gravely-voiced and heavy shouldered, but are only allowed to pick their knuckles up off the ground long enough to punch lots of people, and only stop the fisticuffs long enough to ruminate in voiceover how punches feel wet and concrete feels hard.
The blood and depression are splattered across the screen, but never congeal into anything that’ll leave an impressionable scar, for better or for worse. A Dame to Kill For is as brutal as the first Sin City on the surface, perhaps even more so, but it’s missing the predecessor’s tormented soul. While the visual experience is similar, it feels old hat, and with Rodriguez and Miller only interested in rehashing and approximating rather than elevating, there’s nothing to hang that tattered hat on.