- - Thursday, August 21, 2014

Everything in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is dark, bleak, and grim.

Like its predecessor, 2005’s “Sin City,” it was adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novels in a style that practically makes a fetish of faithfulness.

Mr. Miller, who in an usual arrangement served as co-director with Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids,” “Desperado”), recreates his mostly black-and-white comic-book panels and lighting with a fussy, obsessive authenticity, like a painter determined to create the most accurate possible copy of his own work.

It’s a fascinating visual experiment, and it can be a hoot, at least for a little while, until it eventually becomes both exhausting and boring.

On the page, Mr. Miller’s shadow-filled work often packs a wry punch. But on the screen, it loses much of its kinetic wallop and moody texture, transforming the artfully composed comic-book panels into too-detailed still-life reenactments.

Adding to the overkill, Mr. Miller and Mr. Rodriguez recreate much of the graphic novel’s overwrought dialogue and relentlessly vengeful tone as well.

The comic’s cartoon nihilism works in short bursts, as a kind of concise, witty send-up of old crime and detective stories.

But on screen, at feature length, it’s a drag — a movie with no hope or happiness, just two-dimensional doom and despair.

The whole thing is delivered in a hard-boiled style so inhuman and over-the-top that it verges on parody: Tenderness is replaced with lust, levity with comic ultraviolence.

The characters all speak obsessively of blood and sweat and night and the pointlessness of everything, and after an hour or so, you start to see they have a point, if only about the movie you’re watching.

The dialogue is so insistently one-note, that when you leave the theater, it’s tempting to start talking in the same sort of gritty one-liners as the characters: It’s a movie that runs you over like a semi-truck, with dialogue that explodes like broken glass in your ears.

After a while, you wonder what the point is. You don’t watch this movie — you take 100 minutes to stare at the void.

The high-profile cast includes Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Eva Green, Powers Booth, Dennis Haysbert, and brief appearances by Bruce Willis and Ray Liotta, and they all play along with the movie’s shtick.

But only Mr. Rourke, who stalks the screen with a smirk and an oversized facial prosthetic that makes him look him look like a deformed bobblehead, and Ms. Green, who plays her sultry vixen role with a kind of manic ferocity, seem to really understand the film they’re in.

This is a comic book brought awkwardly to life, not a movie, and consequently the characters onscreen are cartoons, not people.

The same is true of the way it appropriates its genre material. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is not really a crime movie, so much as a collage of crime movie clichs, enacted as if by people who have only had the source material described to them secondhand.

It’s an echo of an echo, an homage that pays tribute only to itself.



TITLE: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

CREDITS: Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; written by Mr. Miller

RATING: R for nudity, sexuality, extreme cartoon violence

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


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