Thursday, October 2, 2008


The amazing thing about the new Robert Rodriguez movie "Sin City" (**** out of ****) is that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave this brutal, bullet-riddled, blood-splattered, sadomasochistic, misogynistic, black & white crime fantasy an R-rating. An NC-17 rating would have seemed more appropriate. The mean-spirited murders and mutilations mount into the double-digits, and the mayhem that occurs with predictable regularity throughout its 2-hour plus running time is more than enough to fill two or three movies. About the only thing that isn't savage about this slickly-made synthetic saga is its theme that love motivates some men to sacrifice their lives for their women. Not only does this hard-boiled melodrama replicate panels from the Frank Miller graphic novel series upon which it is based, but also Rodriguez grafts live actors onto computer-generated sets with a visual artistry that eluded last September's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." "Sin City" ranks as a tour-de-force triumph for both Miller and Rodriguez in terms of its fidelity to the source material. The pared down, spartan looking way that Rodriguez stages the larger-than-life heroics here will inevitably generate imitators, especially in the direct-to-video market. Imagine Rodriguez's "Desperado" crossed with Todd MacFarlane's "Spawn," and you'll have an idea what to expect if you haven't seen the ads. Although the bullet-to-the-bone action escalates to new levels of intensity, "Sin City" layers its ultra-violent action with gallows humor and irony. Characters survive barrages of lead, plunges from high places, cars hitting them, and other miraculous feats that would make Rambo wince. Presumably, Rodriguez obtained a benign R-rating despite the abundant violence in "Sin City," because he exaggerates its brutality. All the women, for example, are busty, bare-breasted, blonde babes who dress like strippers and cradle automatic weapons. While it is based on the Miller novels, "Sin City" owes its imagery, plots, and violence to the cynical film noir thrillers from the 1940s. Indeed, Rodriguez takes the violence to Hong Kong action levels but treats everything like a Roadrunner cartoon. People stand around with arrows shot through them and talk until other arrows silence them. One man tears the genitalia off another as if he were picking berries, and a woman slices off the top of a villain's skull with an airborne martial arts weapon as if she were opening a can with a machete.

The Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez screenplay recreates the clich├ęs and conventions of those aforementioned film noir thrillers with a reverence that reeks of nostalgia. Not only does the dialogue bristle with macho Mickey Spillane man-talk, but also the voice-over narration has a philosophical Raymond Chandler ring to it. Essentially, Miller and Rodriguez tell three tales of woe set in an imaginary Sodom and Gomorrah called Basin City. "Sin City" occupies an unspecified place in time, rather like Walter Hill's 1984 cult classic "Streets of Fire." People drive jalopies from the 1940s as well as tricked-out, contemporary European sports cars. The guys prefer trench coats and heavy artillery, while the gals appear straight out of Frank Frazetta paintings with a penchant for Victoria's Secrets lingerie. In the first, Marv (Mickey Rourke of "Johnny Handsome"), a two-time loser with a heart, wakes up in bed with a dead hooker, Goldie (Jamie King of "Bulletproof Monk "), and finds himself up against armies of gunmen determined to frame him for her demise. Believe me, you won't forget the scene here when he plunges a thug's head into a toilet bowl that hasn't been flushed. In the second, a cop with a bad ticker, Hartigan (Bruce Willis of "Pulp Fiction"), tangles with a psychopathic pedophile (Nick Stahl of "Terminator 3") over innocent 11-year old Nancy Callahan. Eventually, Hartigan goes to prison to keep the villains from learning about Nancy's whereabouts. After he serves 8 years, Hartigan meets a grown up Nancy (Jessica Alba of "Honey") and discovers that the sex deviant that he thought he had dealt with is back for more skullduggery. In the third, an indestructible private eye, Dwight (Clive Owen of "King Arthur"), intervenes between trigger-happy policemen and a horde of gun-toting hookers led by sexy prostitute Gail (Rosario Dawson of "Kids") after a corrupt cop (Benicio DelToro of "Traffic") is gunned down. Wrapped around these three unsavory sagas is another yarn about a deceptive looking hit-man (Josh Harnett of "Pearl Harbor") who never misses his mark.

The story goes that the Directors Guild of America busted Rodriguez out of their union because he gave co-director's credit to comic book artist Frank Miller. According to Rodriguez, Miller's artwork provided him with a storyboard to follow, so he considered Miller as his collaborator. Miller didn't physically direct any of the scenes. Meanwhile, Quentin Tarantino called the shots on a scene or two, but his contribution is so seamlessly integrated into the whole that it doesn't call attention to itself. Although the bulk of the mayhem appears in sharply drawn black and white, Rodriguez dabbles with other colors occasionally, such as red for women's lips or blue for a woman's eyes. Occasionally, characters bleed in different colors. For example, the pedophile bleeds yellow blood. Nothing in "Sin City" is remotely believable, but credibility was never Rodriguez's the goal for this high-octane, slam-bang shoot'em up. The heroes behave acceptably heroic and sometimes die for their heroism. The villains emerge as repellent as you will find in any gritty action thriller. Mickey Rourke's Marv, who resembles Kirk Douglas from "Spartacus" on a lifetime supply of steroids, qualifies as the most memorable character. British actor Clive Owen proves his credentials as a cool action hero. A variety of familiar faces pop up in some of the least expected roles. "Lord of the Rings" hero Elijah Wood plays a Hannibal Lector-like cannibal/serial killer. Audiences that crave action movies with girls, guts, and gore will find this glossy black and white tribute to Frank Miller's graphic novels and film noir thrillers of yesteryear engrossing.

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