Monday, April 04, 2005

Sin City

People die hard in Sin City.

In the new film from Robert Rodriquez, characters are stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, and repeatedly run over by cars. They smash through doors and dive from windows in lieu of taking the stairs. Their genitals are shot off, their limbs are chopped away and their bodies are pierced by arrows.

And their heads? Oh, gosh, their heads are chopped off, pierced, battered, mounted on walls, and crushed into Jell-o. As Marv, Sin City’s resident psychopath asks after an unsuccessful jolt from an electric chair: "Is that the best you can do, you pansies?"

Apparently, yes, it is. And that’s unfortunate.

Rodriquez brings Frank Miller’s graphic novel to very graphic life, taking us into the double-dealing heart of a fictional metropolis, where corruption rules, life is cheap, and the weather really sucks.

It rains a lot here. Buildings, bridges and monuments loom high, dark and threatening. And there’s no hint of sunlight in this mostly black and white world (there are sprinkles of color). Blood is often milky white, which is fortunate since so much is spilled.

And the point of all this is…? I’m not sure.

The stories—such as they are—in this CGI landscape revolve around a cop with a bum ticker (Bruce Willis) who tries to save a little girl from a senator’s perverted son.

Then we move to the aforementioned Marv (Mickey Rourke, channeling Shelley’s Frankenstein and Chandler’s Moose Malloy) who searches for the killer of Goldie, a beautiful hooker whom he meets, loves and loses all in one night.

Clive Owen shows up as a guy who falls afoul of a vicious cop (Benicio Del Toro) over another beautiful woman, which eventually sparks a mini-war in Old Town, where hookers wield machine guns and samurai swords. Just like real life.

All the heroes take beatings that would kill Wile E. Coyote a dozen times over and still manage to talk, talk and talk some more in the seemingly endless voiceover narration that lands somewhere south of Mickey Spillane’s deathless prose.

Bodies pile up, bullets and creaky dialog fly through the air, people vow to take hideous revenge and keep their word; and blood flows in all directions.

Quentin Tarantino shows up to “guest direct” one of the stories, which has some kinky life to it, especially when Del Toro’s nearly severed head starts talking to Owen. And I like seeing Mickey Rourke back on the screen. He gives more life to Marv than the character actually deserves.

But the film has an ersatz feeling to it. It’s as if someone dumped every film noir cliché into a blender, tossed in some gory Fifties comic books and crumbling paperbacks and switched it to pulverize. The result is a retro mutant zombie that has no life of its own. Since Miller was rehasing old movie bits, Rodriquez is giving us a re-hash of a re-hash. That's no blue plate special.

I’m sure defenders of this film will say the violence was too shocking for me. No, I’m afraid it’s worse than that; it’s uninteresting. It would be nice to have characters do more than snarl, bleed, and croak, to put some meat on those bones before you smash them.

As I write this I see that “Sin City” was number one in the box office over the weekend. Maybe that has something to do with the gun-toting hookers in their underwear, but who’s to say?

Watching “Sin City” made me long from the original B-movie source material, where directors told their stories on real mean streets, not virtual ones. Even an overripe knuckle sandwich like “Kiss Me Deadly” has more to offer—and that’s going back half a century.

Rodriquez is undoubtedly talented, but he’s wasted his skills and our time on this low rent material. As Marv would say, is that all you got?

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