- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

No one can accuse “Frank Miller’s Sin City” of not being faithful to its comic-book roots. Director Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids,” “Desperado”) not only frames his film noir as if it literally were swiped from Mr. Miller’s graphic series, he let Mr. Miller share the director’s chair.

That’s the kind of fidelity that should silence Internet naysayers, and the results speak for themselves.

The film startles with its charcoal black-and-white imagery strategically streaked with color. Every frame is composed for maximum visceral impact, just as the best comic pages should be.

What “Sin City’s” bloated middle section won’t do is woo the uninitiated, which limits its box-office potential.

Like HBO’s neo-Western “Deadwood,” “Sin City” fashions a realm where the rule of law is pretty tenuous.

Bruce Willis’ John Hartigan wants to change that. He’s a cop out of the old film school, on the cusp of retirement and nursing a “bum ticker.”

The term “bum ticker” — immediately retro, self-aware, tough as nails — gives you a sense of the flavorful dialect of pulp diction spoken here.

Hartigan’s last case involves the rescue of a young girl captured by a serial rapist (Nick Stahl) who’s also a powerful senator’s son. Hartigan’s cop partner (Michael Madsen, one of many recognizable faces playing small or microscopic roles) turns on him, fearing justice’s repercussions would be worse than if nothing were done.

We then move on to Marv (Mickey Rourke, buried under a Klingon-like face prosthetic), an unsightly outcast who’s trying to avenge a dead hooker who treated him with rare kindness.

That quest leads to a thrilling series of set pieces, but we soon leave Marv’s saga to focus on the third story — the longest and weakest of the film.

Clive Owen portrays Dwight, a burned-out investigator trying to save the city’s prostitutes, who comes under fire when a detective is killed. Along comes Benicio Del Toro’s Jackie Boy — seedier even than Sin City itself — in an attempt to foil Dwight in his mission. Both actors seem somehow constricted by their layers of prosthetics and highly stylized dialogue, and neither matches his best work of the past.

Perhaps the film’s meandering story lines are a result of their being drawn from three Miller stories — “The Hard Goodbye,” “The Big Fat Kill” and “That Yellow Bastard.”

We’ve never seen anyqqqthing quite like “Sin City,” shot — much like “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” — on sets composed of nothing but green screens. It even features a scene shot by Quentin Tarantino for the ultimate hipster touch.

But much as in the former video-store clerk’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” the violent imagery in “Sin City” ultimately wears us out no matter how creative the bloodletting. And by blood, we mean the splashes of white that stand in for the red stuff, an aesthetic choice that dulls the shock factor to an extent.

Mr. Willis leads the wildly uneven cast, supplying the film’s weathered soul. Jessica Alba’s vacant work as the umpteenth stripper with a heart of gold bodes ill for the upcoming “Fantastic Four,” in which she’ll play a very grounded wife and superheroine Sue Richards.

“Sin City” should be Nirvana for comic-book lovers and a night like few others — for better and worse — for everyone else.


TITLE: “Frank Miller’s Sin City”

RATING: R (Frequent nudity, excessive gore, drug use and violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. Written by Mr. Rodriguez based on a series of graphic comic books by Mr. Miller.

RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sincitythemovie.com


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