‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’: A dark, exhilarating sequel

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Color is a special effect in the dark, exhilarating, wonderfully grisly “Frank Miller’s Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For.”

Most of the film is in spectacular, stunning shades of black and white, but every once in a while there’s a gorgeous flash of color: the green in someone’s eyes, the dark magenta of a woman’s hair, a blue coat and — this being a “Sin City” movie — a brassy gold orb where once there was a human eye.

Jessica Alba’s also a special effect in this movie. She’s not the most versatile actress out there, but something about the role of Nancy, the good girl turned exotic dancer, brings out the best in Alba, and I’m not just talking about her moves on the dance floor.

We’ll circle back to that role and that storyline in a bit. There’s a lot of movie going on with a sequel that comes nearly a decade after the first “Sin City,” which still ranks among the finest graphic novel adaptations ever. If you haven’t seen it, please do.

As was the case with the original, “A Dame to Kill For” features multiple and occasionally overlapping storylines, each of them served by a narrator — usually a booze-soaked, world-weary anti-hero obsessed with taking down a longtime enemy or protecting a temptress in distress. The blazingly talented Robert Rodriguez co-directs with Frank Miller, the creator of the “Sin City” books. (Some of the stories here are based on Miller’s books; two plot threads were created for the movie.)

What a lineup of actors, all pouring themselves into the “Sin City” universe and bringing a level of authenticity to their work, even against the super-stylized sets and special effects that make us feel as if we’re immersed in the pages of Miller’s iconic series. Returning cast members include the aforementioned Ms. Alba, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe and Jaime King. Just some of the newcomers: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven and, yep, that’s Lady Gaga in a cameo role.

Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, a lucky penny of a gambler who works his way into a private poker game held in the backroom of the joint where Alba’s Nancy works as a dancer. Powers Boothe’s Sen. Roark hosts the game, and given that Roark owns Sin City and makes a game out of destroying his enemies, it’s little wonder there’s an open seat at the table when Johnny strolls in, intent on bringing down the devil himself. Suffice to say Johnny’s better at reading cards than reading certain situations.

Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke’s anvil-faced Marv is watching over Nancy, looking for any excuse for a brawl and befriending Brolin’s Dwight McCarthy, a former newspaper photographer now working as a low-level private investigator who takes pics of cheating spouses. (In the 2005 film, Clive Owen played Dwight.) Four years after Eva Green’s Ava left Dwight and left him devastated, she returns with a story — a story while she’s nude and seducing Dwight all over again. Ava needs Dwight’s help, and, like nearly every man who comes within smoldering distance of Ava, he’s powerless to resist her.

Then there’s Nancy Callahan, still tearing it up as an exotic dancer, only now she’s drowning in a puddle of booze, still in mourning for Willis’ Lt. Hartigan, and trying to work up the courage to kill Sen. Roark.

Each storyline is punctuated by bursts of creative violence, including but not limited to some of the more inventive sword-work this side of the “Kill Bill” movies. Blood is spilled by the bucketful, bones are cracked, faces are disfigured, bodies are riddled with bullets. Its sickens me sometimes to hear audiences laughing with appreciation at violence in some movies, but this is a graphic novel brought to motion, and it’s SUPPOSED to be a dark and violent thrill ride, and as such it’s extremely effective. When you die in a “Sin City” movie, you die hard.

Rourke, Brolin and Gordon-Levitt are standouts as the leads in their respective stories. Eva Green is a fearless actress who can be completely naked and still not come across as the least bit vulnerable. Ava is one manipulative operator, and the ways in which she traps men in her web are hilarious.

Alba is all fire and ice as the heartbroken, revenge-seeking, self-destructive Nancy. Wily veterans such as Ray Liotta, Stacy Keach, Christopher Lloyd and Christopher Meloni each get just a few minutes of screen time, but they all rip it.

It’s got to be a lot of fun to shoot a “Sin City” movie. Sure, there’s plenty of green-screen work, and many of the actors are no doubt spending hours in the makeup chair, but you get to wear badass outfits, drive vintage cars, wield swords and knives and guns — and if you’re cast in the right role, you get to steam up the screen with an Eva Green. And the women are in on the fun too. I can’t give you an exact count, but I’d be willing to bet the ladies execute more quality kills in “A Dame to Kill For” than the fellas.

I would have liked to see more of Johnny, the Gordon-Levitt character. And that’s the one story that didn’t quite deliver on its promise.

Still. This is one badass movie. Rodriguez and Miller are reportedly planning on a “Sin City 3.” Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait nine years again.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper


[s3r star=3.5/4]

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