One of the graphic novels of Sin City, a collection of short stories involving major and minor characters from throughout the books, is named Booze, Broads, and Bullets. Those three words boil down Sin City to its most basic components, and this reduction is evident in this long gestating sequel. A sequel that’s so bad that it makes you call into question your enjoyment of the original.
Sure, there’s a few moments where everything is flowing along nicely, but they’re incredibly rare. The film is best when it sticks to the older narratives and far away from anything creator Frank Millar has recently penned. The ultimate failure of A Dame to Kill For is that more than half of it is occupied by original material, and it only underscores how far Millar’s writing has fallen in recent years.
A Dame to Kill For is still visually eye-popping, but it’s a world of artifice where sex, violence, and death no longer have any weight or consequences. This is pulpy noir on steroids, and it leaves behind the more important aspects of that genre’s effectiveness: mystery, danger, interesting characters and quotable dialogue. Sin City had real conflicts powering through its narratives, and it took the occasional moments of silence to really power through the visual audacity and mayhem to leave behind something real.
The problems start with the opening short, a patented ludicrous thing taken verbatim from Booze, Broads, and Bullets called “Just Another Saturday Night.” It finds Marv waking up in the middle of a car crash and retracing his steps to figure out how he got his infamous black jacket. It could be fun, but even the short story was more concerned with “cool” looking moments of violence than telling a coherent story, so it translates over. Of course, when you use three of the best storylines in one film that does tend to leave behind some of the weaker ones for a sequel, except the title story is one of the strongest.
So it was on the printed page, so it is in the film. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is frankly sloppy until we get to that particular story, and then things start gelling for a brief period of time. Thank Eva Green and Josh Brolin for finding the right tone of dead-eyed seriousness and joyful kitsch in their line readings as femme fatale and lovable brute. Not even the woefully bad makeup on Stacy Keach and Mickey Rourke can distract from the fun and brutality on display here, but that vibe doesn’t last long enough.
We’re quickly thrown back to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wasted talents in a generic tale of card sharks and a duplicitous Senator. Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe, still dripping oily menace) was an overheated character in the comics, but the two original stories orbiting around him and adding to his evil and powerful overreach transform him into a comical, borderline ridiculously corrupt caricature. Even worse is how much of a livewire, quirky actor like Gordon-Levitt is reduced to another lovable brute, Lady Gaga is sacked with a generic bit-part, and genuine weirdo Christopher Lloyd isn’t given enough to do.
Then we end with the much-teased Nancy revenge story, a storyline that’s been promised since the first one was such a surprise hit. It turns out to be a limp thing that attaches itself to That Yellow Bastard but cannot summon up quite as much pathos and earned empathy as that story did. Jessica Alba is there, once again wearing a bad blond wig and playing a stripper that doesn’t actually take anything off, Bruce Willis cameos, and Marv shows up again. It’s more of things people liked in the first one but rearranged in a way that suggests that Millar’s lost the plot on what it was that people liked about these original stories in the first place.
And that’s what lingers in the mind while watching A Dame to Kill For. Whereas the first film was equally as violent and sexual, it knew when to pause the voiceover narration, the quips, the barrage of bullets long enough to marinate in the atmospherics on display and allows its actors to display some personality. A Dame to Kill For neuters those strengths in favor of doing the opposite, so it all looks the same but doesn’t feel the same. It somehow feels even flatter than the paper the stories were originally printed on.