**1/2 (out of four)
Tourism must be struggling in Sin City. Virtually the only entertainment (not including prostitution and drinking) is watching one woman (Jessica Alba) dance on a bar ad nauseam. Every girl in town is gorgeous, but most are killers. The guys are violent brutes unable to control their impulses. But, uh, the black-and-white skyline makes for a romantic stroll down dark alleys?
I’m thinking about this while “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” the long-awaited sequel to 2005’s awesome “Sin City,” only sort of holds my attention. The follow-up’s gripping at a glance and meandering at full attention. Analyze it deeply and you’ll find little at the bottom. Its predecessor’s electricity? Turned down.
On that note: Though it feels like it came out forever ago (Josh Hartnett, Marley Shelton and the awful Alexis Bledel co-starred), Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s previous adaptation of Miller’s graphic novels isn’t dated at all. It still looks great—grimy and authentically hard-boiled. It’s entertainment with flair, as visual creativity is underscored with the good sense that just because tough guys want to take care of beautiful women doesn’t mean all the ladies need the men for protection.
Part 2, another collection of vignettes, doesn’t quite jell. Joseph Gordon-Levitt effectively glares as Johnny, a slot machine master who can shuffle with one hand but learns why you don’t embarrass sleazy Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Rosario Dawson kicks more ass as Gail, and Jessica Alba makes Nancy into more than just abs. There are some substitutions: Josh Brolin strongly takes over for Clive Owen as Dwight, but Jamie Chung isn’t as piercing a Miho as Devon Aoki. Same goes for Dennis Haysbert stepping in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute. Also, Marv (Mickey Rourke) has grown morally careless, killing a cop who did nothing wrong, and Jeremy Piven disintegrates the sense of place as a loudmouth officer, turning noir into “Entourage.”
Sporadically, this “Dame” sizzles, especially in the dialogue—Dwight summarizes a fight against Manute with, “I punch a vault door; it doesn’t fall down.” Yet viewers’ primary discussion point may be the frequently naked Ava (Eva Green), who’s only pretending to be vulnerable; men are her puppets, her curves pull the strings. (Green kinda attempted this in “300: Rise of an Empire” too.)
Sin City may be warped and a little stale, but it remains a familiar, semi-intriguing place where love and desire can make a fool of almost anyone.
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