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'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For': Digital backlot noir-wannabe, and nobody wins

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For hit me like a knuckle sandwich from a guy who definitely wasn't working for the deli.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For hit me like a knuckle sandwich from a guy who definitely wasn't working for the deli.

It hit me like a woman who had a bad time at the salon and was taking it out on whichever mug looked at her twice, her hairdo flapping in the stench of a breeze coming off the docks, where the corpses of stool pigeons who got what they deserved lay rotting like moldy figs.

It hit me deep in the gut, made me lose my balance, like some skid-row nomad crawling through the night, like the graveyard-shift security guard at the factory where the smoke rises into the sky covering the moon, which reminded me of that cheese I ate for breakfast in the back booth of Snooky's Diner, where they serve up a cup of Joe that pours down your throat like a lap dancer slinking all over the place before her jealous boyfriend storms in with a look on his face like, um, a jealous boyfriend.

And you don't want to see a lap dancer's boyfriend when he's jealous. Especially if he went to ninja school and knows the difference between a nunchuk and a chipmunk. Really, you don't.

OK, I give up. Writing this stuff ain't easy, which is why you've got to hand it to Frank Miller, the comic-book artiste and auteur whose hard-boiled voice-overs in 2005's Sin City and now in its sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, let you know in the most Shakespearean way what's on a poor schmo's mind.

Try Joseph Gordon-Levitt's cocky cardsharp, Johnny, on what the tenements, warehouses, and neon-splattered strip clubs of a doomy metropolis are all about: "A city is like a woman, or a casino. Somebody's going to win it."

Or try Bruce Willis' ghostly detective, John Hartigan: "Death is just like life in Sin City. It always wins."

Or try Mickey Rourke's trenchcoated, hawknosed Marv, uber-warrior of Miller's universe, surveying a couple of crashed cars and dead guys: "I don't remember a thing. How did I get here? What have I done? And why?"

"Why?" is the key question in A Dame to Kill For. Like, why sit through this pimply excuse for pulp fiction? Why not read the real boys (Goodis, Cain, Thompson), or see the real films (Forget it, Jake. It's not Chinatown)?

Sure, the digital backlot business - actors performing against green screen, all the divey joints and fancy mansions filled in postproduction by guys from the Geek Squad - looks cool. Especially as it is rendered in the starkest of black-and-white. But then a little color seeps into the frame, like the red of a victim's blood, or the green of Eva Green's eyes.

She's the movie's titular dame, I think, although there are other dames, like Jessica Alba, who plays a stripper you don't want to let near a gun, or Julia Garner, who plays Johnny's good-luck doll and, for reasons not entirely clear, moves head-to-toe in color through this black-and-white tableau. (Does she represent innocence? Insouciance? Or did Miller and his codirector, Robert Rodriguez, just fall asleep on the job?)

I was all set to lash into Sin City: A Dame to Kill For for its cartoon violence, its goonish misogyny, its junior-high Dashiell Hammett gab, its deaths by (count 'em) decapitation, crossbow, noose, throwing star, serrated knife, blade, bomb, bullets.

But what's the point? The world's spiraling out of control like a rabid dog poking its snout between Dumpsters in some back alley where movie stars grab their checks and hightail it downtown where they walk into bars in slo-mo and pull up a chair to play high-stakes poker, because a casino is like a woman is like a city - somebody's got to win something, right?

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For *1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. With Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt,

Eva Green. Distributed

by Dimension Films.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes).

Playing at: Area theaters.EndText