STUDIO: Miramax
MSRP: $29.99
RUNNING TIME: 126 min.

I’m the last of the CHUD triumvirate to officially weigh in on this movie, which was already enjoyed in its theatrical release by Nick (his review HERE) and Devin (his review HERE). Oddly enough, while I’m an equally devoted fan of Frank Miller’s original crime noir graphic novels, and was the only one among us who held faith in director Robert Rodriguez’s ability to convert them to the big screen, I’m probably the least satisfied by the finished product.

The Flick

After a brief prologue and a slick opening credit sequence where the actors’ names appear with their black-and-white comic book counterpart, the movie (which brings three of Miller’s Sin City arcs to monochromatic life) gives us a taste of “That Yellow Bastard”, in which fanatical cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis), on the eve of his retirement, is on a mission to rescue a young girl from sicko senator son Junior (Nick Stahl).

"Look, Bruce, I told you… I don’t know when Vengeance Unlimited is coming out on DVD either! But I’ll sell you copies of The Price of Air and Executive Target… cheap!"

Once Hartigan absorbs more metal than an Ozzfest crowd (don’t worry, Sin City’s major characters shrug off bullets and other forms of physical punishment easier than Wile E. Coyote), the movie plows into “The Hard Goodbye”, which follows cartoonish bruiser Marv (Mickey Rourke after excessive prosthetic mutation) on his ferocious quest to avenge the death of angelic prostitute Goldie (Jaime King). Marv’s ultraviolent undertaking finds him crossing paths with a mute cannibal (Elijah Wood), corrupt cops, whore-warrior Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her Old Town harlots, and a high-ranking member of the clergy.

With Marv’s bloody mission accomplished, Sin City segues into “The Big Fat Kill”, in which fugitive criminal Dwight (Clive Owen) finds himself a reluctant peacekeeper when shaggy Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro), the former lover of Dwight’s current flame Shellie (Brittany Murphy), makes a drunken incursion into the Sin City district where the prostitutes rule. A few swishes from the sword of deadly ninja hooker Miho (Devon Aoki) and suddenly the tenuous truce between the police and the Old Town working girls is threatened, which means it’s time for Dwight to stand up for his friends and kill a whole lot of people.

Rourke had peculiar (but admirable) demands when it came to where he’d sign contracts.

When that little matter is viciously resolved, the focus returns to Hartigan, who survived the outcome of his final case only to spend eight solitary years behind bars in order to protect the identity of innocent young Nancy. As promised, the young girl writes him letters each week under an assumed name, but he suspects the worst when the correspondence suddenly ceases and he’s paid a visit by a stinky lemon-skinned creep. Satisfying his captors by confessing to a variety of crimes, a haggard Hartigan hits the streets looking to protect little Nancy, instead finding her a frighteningly fit woman (Jessica Alba) who strips for a living. Unfortunately he also realizes he’s led the reconstructed Junior, that yellow bastard, right to her.

Giddy with nihilism, Rodriguez (along with “co-director” Miller) has channeled a handful of graphic novels through his mainframe processors, outputting an accurate full-motion interpretation of the books’ cinematic framing, the stark contrast, that distinctive Miller rain, and all the profanity and relentless mayhem. As comic adaptations go, the results are more literal (and certainly more gruesome) than the nearest contenders, the Spider-Man movies and Ang Lee’s flawed but overly despised Hulk.

Without the vibrant hues that helped make them famous, Me Badd went on a failed tour and soon fell on hard times.

With a couple of significant exceptions (alien oddity Aoki just doesn’t work for me as Miho, while Michael Madsen was apparently afflicted with amnesia and forgot everything he ever learned about acting), the performers are all appropriate for their parts. It’s just a matter of whether they’re playing their role (Owen, Dawson, Willis) or embodying it (Rourke, Wood, Stahl). Rutger Hauer, Nicky Katt, Tommy Flanagan and Powers Boothe also briefly enjoy gnawing the polygonal scenery. And then there’s the ladies, most notably the spectacularly naked Carla Gugino and Jamie King, whose phenomenal curves do not detract from their fleeting effectiveness. Even Brittany Murphy gets into the vibe with her floozy delivery. As I’ve stated incessantly on this site, Jessica Alba is preposterously hot, but the extent of her emoting abilities is limited to her succulent lips and undulating hips.

Miller’s written work was already shallow sub-Spillane pulp loaded with crudely defined characters and indulgent prose, but the excessive amount of narration delivered in the film’s context and the unquestioning devotion to the source material started to make me wonder if he should have exercised a little self-editing. The fantastic style of the film is its greatest asset, but some of the computer-fabricated scenery lends a videogame cut-scene aesthetic, as when actors are quite obviously pretending to walk while the fake environment scrolls behind them; other times the humans seem to sort of hover, like Colorforms arranged on a static background. Perhaps Rodriguez should’ve used some of that digital wizardry to erase the honkin’ zit on Brittany Murphy’s cheek.

Though not entirely practical, Dancing Dan finally came up with a way to publicize his hobby even while standing.

The film also suffers in its structure and pacing. Considering how Rourke clutches the material in his alley-monster meat-hooks and just throttles the shit out of it, Marv’s story is by far the most viscerally rewarding and should’ve been saved for the finale. The movie loses rhythm with “The Big Fat Kill”, which of the three stories is probably the least imaginative and sluggish (further encumbered by Owen’s lugubrious delivery), sort of an urban variant of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Unfortunately our antihero Dwight is surrounded by empowered women who virtually contradict his character’s necessity, made even more evident when he has to follow Marv’s primal tale. Still, it is the only segment with an upbeat ending. Meanwhile, Hartigan’s abnormal love story (hell, all three chapters are basically atypical love stories, at least in the same manner as, say, The Crow or The Terminator) would’ve been better served told in whole rather than split into bookends, especially since the film already has a preface and coda featuring another character (Josh Hartnett’s contract killer). And though the stories do intersect, given how verbatim the rest of the film is, all three chapters should’ve had title cards, which surely would benefit those unfamiliar with the graphic novels.

None of this truly diminishes what Rodriguez has accomplished with this experiment, however. His hyperstylish and slavish translation of Miller’s source material indeed fulfills all promises of a seedy, nightmarish metropolis packed with intense violence, gorgeous dames and stilted voiceovers. It ain’t perfect, but it’ll do.

7 out of 10

With Wolverine out of town on a crossover, Marv had to settle for hanging out with his halfwit half-brother Grogan.

The Look

This is tough for me to score. One of my biggest complaints about the film when I saw it in the theater was that, considering the subject matter, it just looked too clean, like… crisp grit. With all of Rodriguez’s celebrated post-production skills, I thought he should’ve grunged it up a bit, give it some tarnish or worn texture. As I feared, this is all the more noticeable when watching the film on a TV (or worse, a computer monitor) where it betrays its noir-film aspirations with the disconcerting revelation of precisely what it is: a black-and-white movie shot on digital cameras.

That said, the anamorphic widescreen picture on the DVD is magnificent, with clear whites and impossibly black shadows you could reach your hand into (daylight doesn’t exist in this burg), occasionally interrupted with shocking splashes of vivid color. It’s not often I’d say a movie needs film grain, but Sin City is just not dirty enough.

8 out of 10

The sequel Everything is Sorta Overcast.

The Noise

Ah, how I adore thee, DTS. It’s like the quantum difference between your TV speakers and a six-piece Bose setup. Crunching bones, rasping dialogue, thundering gunfire and manhood being shredded all make for a rich aural experience set to a rumbling (and surprisingly catchy) score by Rodriguez and friends.

Oh yeah, and there’s a 5.1 track that’s pretty good, I guess.

9.5 out of 10

Now that’s a woman! (?)

The Goodies

Wow, what a tremendous amount of extras… that are completely absent from this disc! Rather than trumpet the participation of Quentin Tarantino, who had slightly more to do with the film than I did, they may as well put a big sticker on the cover that says “Buy this, chump! Don’t wait a few months for the super 2-disc unrated version with commentaries, comic-to-film comparisons, deleted scenes, quickie film school, new Rodriguez cooking recipes, and massive amounts of behind-the-scenes footage!”

But that wouldn’t be very effective marketing, I suppose. So instead you get a couple of trailers and an 8-minute marshmallow, and neato menus where the comic characters morph into the actors playing them. All for only 30 balloons! The utter lack of bonus features is only slightly more disheartening than the studio’s blatant, shameless greed in releasing a bare-bones edition when everyone is familiar with Rodriguez’s love of DVD and penchant for scads of goodies.

“Walk down the right back alley in Sin City, and you can find anything.”

Except the Special Edition of this DVD.

0.5 out of 10

The Artwork

Although there are a bunch of different cardboard sheathes featuring various characters, the cover of the disc itself is simply the theatrical poster.

It works, even if it looks exactly like what it is: a Photoshop blend of the previous individual teaser posters.

7 out of 10

Overall: 6.8 out of 10