SIN CITY written and directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, special guest director Quentin Tarantino, based on the comic books by Miller, with Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Clive Owen, Devon Aoki, Brittany Murphy, Benicio Del Toro, Nick Stahl and Michael Clarke Duncan. 126 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Thursday (March 31). For venues and times, see Movies, page 90. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
When Bruce Willis first shoves his fist into Michael Madsen's mug, there's the distinct sound of breaking glass. When Elijah Wood bleeds, it's milky white. Jessica Alba writhes like a house cat on a stripper pole. Rosario Dawson comes wrapped in leather ribbons and perched on skyscraper stilettos.
Sin City is almost unbearably pleasurable, because it cranks movie star appeal up to comic book levels. As the Ain't It Cool News reviewer put it, "I totally camed in my pants."
What's weird is how infrequent an occurrence that is.
Comic books rule pop movies now. Spider-Man and X-Men suck up billions of dollars and all the best R&D talent in Hollywood. Even Daredevil, Elektra and Catwoman have their fans. Comic book style and comic book narrative define summer movies, but something's always lost in the translation. Until now.
Two things set Sin City apart from those lumbering summer blockbusters. First, it draws on Frank Miller's hyper-intense series, which is the espresso version of regular comic books. Second, Frank Miller co-directed the film, which means his hard-boiled style gets mainlined direct to the screen.
Sin City slices and dices three Miller stories. Clive Owen teams up with Rosario Dawson's squad of whore/enforcers to rescue a valuable severed head. Bruce Willis saves a little girl from a vicious pedophile, then has to fight him all over again when the girl grows up into Jessica Alba. And Mickey Rourke brawls his way to the high-placed villain who framed him for killing the only woman he ever loved.
What's weird is that Rourke is the best thing in this movie.
Even though he pitched headfirst into laughable sometime around the time when Wild Orchid came out, Rourke redeems himself completely with just this one film. Outfitted with a brush cut and a brick of prosthetics on his face, he makes Sgt. Rock look metrosexual. He's perfect for this world where women are angels and men crack skulls, and he gets to spit lines like, "I been killing my way to the truth ever since."
Miller lifts the language and the values from 40s hard-boiled crime fiction and transfers them to 50s tough guys and post-feminist killer women. Then he gives it all an amphetamine charge of state-of-the-art computer FX. It's a black-and-white film noir, but with 21st-century engineering.
Miller's mid-80s Dark Knight Returns led to Tim Burton's Batman and a whole new aesthetic in comic book movies. But the movies have been creeping back to convention ever since. Sin City enters this landscape not in peace, but with a sword. Two swords, in fact, wielded by Miho, the silent avenger played by fanboy favourite Devon Aoki.
Though it threatens their trousers, Sin City was made for fanboys of all kinds. It was shot, edited and co-directed by Robert Rodriguez, who makes a welcome return to carnage after those Spy Kids movies. There's even a contribution from Quentin Tarantino, credited as special guest director.
But this movie belongs to Frank Miller. It's his taste for blunt force, raw sex and compromised virtue that gives Sin City it's wicked pop expressionism.