The black-and-white of "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is a clue -- or, maybe, an announcement -- not to expect much in the way of subtlety.
A bold and stylish serving of ultraviolence, "Dame" is in the same graphic novel-inspired boat as the first "Sin City" and, like it, features semi-big names playing tough guys and pretty ladies who kiss and, more often, kill each other. Like its predecessor, "Dame" is an anthology of short stories that are set in the lawless Sin City, which looks a lot like Los Angeles and which the film's writers hope we will think sounds a lot like Raymond Chandler's tough-guy detective novels ("You're right about me," coos one dame. "I'm a selfish slut who threw away the only one I ever loved.").
But images, not words, propel the action of "Dame." Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have made an inventive thriller that dazzles with its visual splendors: The way a hyper-real overhead shot of a slum suddenly turns surreal when the white silhouette of a cartoony-looking helicopter flies over it; the eye-concealing whiteness of the sunglass lenses; the way the camera ricochets over the streets of Sin City like a speeding bullet.
Fans of the original "Sin City" will recognize this territory, which is mostly crisp blacks and whites with the occasional infusion of bloody red. Other than that film, there's never been anything in the movies that looked like this.
The heightened quality of the film's lowlife events allows for stylized acting, as well, and a few of the performers take full advantage. In the title role, Eva Green is a gas. She's a perverted, sadistic and usually naked temptress, and Green sinks her teeth into the role like a lioness ripping a gazelle to pieces. Mickey Rourke again brings a freakish sweetness to his hideous galoot character. Powers Boothe oozes evil as the vicious tycoon who thinks he owns Sin City.
Unfortunately, a movie cannot live on style alone. The language is a second- or third-rate Chandler knockoff and, whereas Chandler's novels were actually about something, "Dame" isn't -- unless you count looking super-cool as "something." Even its stories are not created equal: Green's tangle with brutish Josh Brolin is swell, as are Gordon-Levitt's storyline and a short segment with a zesty performance by Juno Temple as a prostitute without a heart of gold. But the story that features Jessica Alba as a vengeance-minded stripper falls completely flat because Alba is compelling when she's dancing but not when she's doing anything else.
Even more unfortunate, the Alba storyline comes last in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," ending the movie on a sour note. Maybe the filmmakers should have thought about killing a different dame?
Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552 or follow him on twitter.com/ChrisHMovie .
"SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR"
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Starring: Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Rated: R for bloody violence, drug use, language and nudity
Should you go? It doesn't add much to the first "Sin" but cinemaphiles will like its style. **-1/2