There’s something about movie reviews that seems a little too… self-indulgent for what I want to put in my blog. But, eh, Defective Yeti does it, and that’s good enough for me.

I’ve never read the Sin City comics. I do love me some Frank Miller, but SC is just one of those titles I haven’t gotten to yet in the queue. I’ve thumbed through ’em, and I’m a big fan of high-contrast art in general, so I’ve got a general sense of how they work visually. And, indeed, it was no suprise that this flick was a shot-for-shot remake of the comics. Nine times out of ten, I could mentally reverse-engineer Miller frames out of the movie visuals. And the overt “comic” look is a tough trick to pull off (think the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy), but it worked fairly well for this.

The thing is… I kept wanting to see the ACTUAL Miller art. The film effect was just too slick for my tastes. The CGI setpieces and digitally-filmed actors had absolutely no grain to them, not even the ordinary grain you get from celluloid. But one of the things that’s so great about Miller’s art is that you can see brushstrokes and splatters and grit all over the place. It’s dirty on a level that the polished film quality of the movie never conveyed, in spite of the gore and physical grit of WHAT was being filmed.

And what was being filmed was definitely harsh. But when people bleed stark white, you get the visceral texture and sound without over-the-top grossout gore, which was often a very good balance. And, oh, do people bleed. The stories, dialogue, and action are all pulp revenge painfests, and no one ever ever EVER dies quickly. Any Sin City hero will be driven by vengeance to bring pain and death to those who have harmed a beloved female. And the females, themselves, are just as sullied by the city as their male satellites. The only exception is the 11-year-old girl who Bruce Willis’ character saves, but when he encounters her eight years later as a pole-dancing sexpot, he finds himself resisting (and failing to resist) her advances (with overtones of retroactive pedophilia, to boot).

Now, this is all great fodder for pulp crime drama, but I thought the three overlapping storylines were too similar to each other to really keep my interest. The first main plot to play out was also the first comic story arc, with Mickey Rourke’s Marv avenging the death of the prostitute who was the only woman to ever show him affection. It was also – to me, anyway – the most interesting and entertaining plotline. Marv is a great audience-surrogate character: invincible but with all the world against him, brutal but brutal with the right people, dumb but sarcastic and street-savvy enough to be effective and amusing. His quest touched on pretty much all the main players, to the point that revisiting them later in other plotlines often felt redundant. After Rutger Hauer’s very Rutger-Hauer-y performance as the cardinal in the crooked Roark family, how could the other Roarks measure up?

Clive Owens’ Dwight was a little too mysterious and suave and ninja to really identify with, and by the time Bruce Willis’ Hartigan returned, the onslaught of casual brutality and (as my friend John put it) pulp-Mad-Libs dialogue had dulled me to any kind of real interest. The audience groaned loudly when Hardigan tore That Yellow Bastard’s “other weapon” off, but I didn’t feel any kind of reaction. After all the other limb-hacking, head-chopping, flesh-shredding, and blood-fountaining, what’s one more dismemberment (no matter how literal)?

And despite the plot overlaps – the Roark family, the farm o’ despair, the club that everyone passes through – there was a disappointing lack of intertwinement. The Bruce Willis story would probably have been a bit more engaging to me if there had been more clever bits of “ah ha, now we’re seeing that same event from a completely new and enlightening angle!” For instance, I held out a little hope that the “backup” he told Nancy was coming was going to be the helicopter-borne squad that killed Lucille (which probably would’ve made no sense at all, but you get what I mean). Just seeing other characters make obvious cameos (gasp! Elijah Woods is in the farmhouse!) seemed like a half-assed cop-out.

I’ve seen people complain about some of that acting, but I never saw anything that bugged me overtly in that department. Even Michael Madsen’s I-can’t-believe-I-just-said-“bum-ticker” delivery as Hartigan’s partner Bob seemed appropriate somehow for his character. If there was really anything that put me off about the performances, it was that too often the green-screen environment the actors were in showed through. For instance, the very first scene in no way felt like it was taking place on a penthouse balcony, despite all the very pretty visuals telling us so.

Putting that aside, though, there definitely WERE some great performances. Benicio Del Toro’s Rafferty was frightening and hypnotic and (after the Pez-ification) hilariously grotesque. And as his quavering but fixed-eyed girlfriend Shellie, Brittany Murphy verbally fenced with him in a fantastic display of both self-righteous arrogance and pliant admission of tactical defeat. Then the triangle they made with Clive Owens’ zen-scary Dwight was very entertaining. “You forgot to flush.” Teee hee hee hee hee hee.

When it comes right down to it, the best things that come to mind about the movie are isolated moments. The realization that Marv’s “confessional” is a shakedown, Stuka’s reaction (or lack thereof) to the spear through his chest, Hartigan’s please-don’t-recognize-me sequence in the club. There were lots of great little things. But as a whole….. eh. It’s ambitious and a great technical achievement. But there’s just not enough content to make it really worthwhile.

My astro-rating:

Matinee (but at the best theater you can find)

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