Much like the lucky coin Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Johnny clutches, I have to pick a side. And Sin City: A Dame to Kill For just doesn't have enough in it to recommend.
Let's start with the good: Powers Boothe, reprising his role as the heavy, is terrific. He plays the corrupt Senator Roark with the appropriate amount of menace and ham. Roark dishes out sadistic punishments to anyone he doesn't like but relishes in lines like "Let's give him a hand," as he presents a severed hand to someone who dared cross him.
Equally good is Eva Green as Ava, the titular dame. She absolutely commits to the role, going all the way with the camp and sexiness the role requires. She's a perfect femme fatale, seducing a host of men, including Christopher Meloni, having some fun tweaking his role from Law & Order: SVU.
Overall, the stories"”particularly the simple but brutal "The Long Bad Night""”are engaging, and I love to hear the hard-boiled film noir dialogue, even if some of it is cheesy. So why am I still on the fence about it? There are several reasons, actually.
The first and biggest disappointment is the feeling of "been there, done that." The original Sin City, despite being a little too long and impressed with itself, definitely felt like nothing I'd ever seen before. But after nearly a decade of advances in special effects and cinematography, there's nothing to wow here. In fact, the movie looks quite cheap but not in a way that adds to the grimy texture of the town.
There's also a big letdown without Clive Owen here as Dwight. Nothing against Josh Brolin, who may in fact be more suited as the naive killer lured out of retirement by Ava, but seriously, he's no Clive Owen. That guy has a surplus of charisma, even in unlikable roles like his Oscar-nominated turn in Closer. Other re-casting choices make sense: Michael Clarke Duncan sadly passed away, and Devon Aoki was pregnant during filming. But those characters aren't crucial to the story like Dwight.
I also couldn't help but shake the feeling that half the cast was only doing this for the paycheck. Mickey Rourke and especially Bruce Willis brought a special lived-in quality to their characters in the original. But here, their reprisals seem more out of obligation than desire. There's an attempt to give Jessica Alba's Nancy some of that same weariness, but she's not the caliber of actress to pull that off. The movie features far too many of her stripteases, including one set to an absolutely dreadful song performed by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.
So it all comes down to a coin flip. For some, the enjoyable parts may be enough to obscure the weaknesses. But for me, I can't quite recommend another stay in Sin City.