Review: 'Sin City: A Dame To Kill For'

I've never seen a bad Tom Waits cover band, but I imagine it would be a lot like watching "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For." This is a movie that wants to riff on hard-boiled Hollywood film noir and pulp novels, but has absolutely no clue how to do it. It has a nose for what's cool, but is completely inept at execution.

Somewhere beneath the wince-worthy dialogue that wretched dramatist Frank Miller shoves in the mouths of the film's characters (and pours on top via voice over with all the subtlety a child mixing his own chocolate milk) there are, unquestionably, noble, fun and interesting ideas. But at feature length (less than 2 hrs but feels like over 3) Miller's film (co-directed by Robert Rodriguez) is punishing.

And yet! And yet! And yet! In a Hollywood landscape where so much action cinema in plagued with sameness, I can not in good conscience give anything with this level of inspired design an entirely negative review. Miller is a cartoonist first, screenwriter far far second. The look he and Rodriguez have concocted is extraordinary.

It's a mix of animation and live action, color and black and white and it leaps from the screen even better than it did in their last picture from 2005. I won't go so far as to say there are great sequences, or even great scenes, or even great moments. But there are great instances. Blipvert-sized flashes of genuine creativity and excellent craftsmanship - a crossfade here, a speeding tire there, a white-blooded quadruple decapitation everywhere - these sensational whispers that disappear as soon as they are discovered can safely be called brilliant.

There are three nested stories, but the biggie is between Eva Green and Josh Brolin. She spends the bulk of her screentime in various states of undress lit like one of Riefenstahls Olympians. Her skin is blanched to extreme white but her lips burn red and her eyes sear green - she looks like a deranged, voluptuously nubile Christmas tree.

She plays a strumpet of the highest order, the Siren di tutti Siren, using nice guy Brolin (and, later, Christopher Meloni) to secure her a widow's fortune. The specifics are as complex as "The Big Sleep" but with none of the memorable lines or performances. This and the other two stories, which include Joseph Gordon-Levitt vs. Powers Boothe in a poker match and Jessica Alba searching for vengeance, succeed as much as they do solely because of their visual appeal.

It's not just post-production tricks. The costumes are predominantly S&M fetish-wear as designed by a mescaline user. When the multicultural gang of killer sex kittens from "Old Town" (a "sea of flesh" as Brolin calls it) take center stage what should be of prurient interest to teen boys is more like a hyperviolent version of "RuPaul's Drag Race." Rosario Dawson's earrings must be given their due. It is, as they say, somethin'.

The movie's Russian Doll structure nixes the traditional three acts, ensuring anyone who might be into the story will experience multiple anti-climaxes. This thing really drags, and the insufferable voice over never ends. But visual flourishes continue to inspire until the final frame.

So I think I know the solution. Wait for the Blu-ray, then pop it in with the audio track in French. (It is, after all Film "Noir.") Do not put on the English subtitles. Not just because you don't want text covering up that gorgeous frame, but because the movie you make in your head based on the images will be far more interesting.