In the hard-boiled narration describing the gnarly nighttime world of Sin City, people are constantly talking about how rough it is and how lethal the people are. They left out one thing: You could also die of boredom here. Or so it seems in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a sequel to the imaginative 2005 film. With its all-digital black-and-white world and retro-film-noir mood no longer a novelty, the second film comes up short in inspiration and originality.
A batch of characters return from the first installment. One is Marv, the granite-faced strongman who idealizes a stripper named Nancy (Jessica Alba, also returning). Marv is played by Mickey Rourke, whose appearance has been freakishly altered by make-up and digital sculpting.
If Joseph Gordon-Levitt has spent much of his grown-up career running away from the image of a sitcom child star, he couldn’t have devised a better way to cut the cord than this. He wrote, directed, and stars in Don Jon, the story of a porn addict who’d be right in place amongst the braying loudmouths of Jersey Shore. That Gordon-Levitt is still as likable as he was back in the days of Third Rock From the Sun—or the more recent 50/50 and (500) Days of Summer—goes a long way toward explaining why we stick with his obnoxious character here. The movie’s first twist is that although Jon is introduced to us an Internet porn addict, he’s no antisocial nerd: He’s got local fame as a ladies’ man, prowling the disco with his buddies and searching for a “dime” (a “10,” on the immortal scale) to take home on a Saturday night. Yet that success leaves him unsatisfied, so his laptop porn rituals are repetitively chronicled in near-NC-17 detail.
An encounter with the lushly named Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson, in a deft caricature) suggests that our boy may have found authentic love, but Gordon-Levitt throws in some reasonably fresh variations on the tale of an addict redeemed.
Premium Rush opens on a helmeted bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) flying slo-mo across the screen, a long-legged bird against the sky. How daredevil biker Wilee (as in Coyote) came to be so dangerously and beautifully airborne requires backtracking through a thriller narrative packed with twists and turns to eventually fetch up where we began. Story line and style are as convoluted and full-throttle as Wilee’s adrenalized navigation — sans gears or brakes — of Manhattan’s crowded avenues and byways. Snatching you up in media res, “Rush” is like a shot of speed: It blasts your breath away, then gives you a ticket to ride a bullet bareback. Wilee’s go-for-broke mantra is the movie’s: “Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.”
Wilee’s main squeeze and fellow bike messenger, buff and sexy Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), has dropped him after he blew off her college graduation for a bike race. So now Wilee’s rival on the road, gorgeously muscled Manny (“Have you seen my thighs?”), played by Wolé Parks, is putting the moves on his lady. Wilee’s a law school grad who can’t be bothered to take the bar exam, a speed demon allergic to any form of sedentary life, of either the romantic or work variety. Man for all movie seasons Gordon-Levitt looks authentically high as he shoots urban rapids (actually cutting himself up — 30 stitches’ worth! — in the process), and Wilee projects a hint of the grown-up he will become sooner rather than later. Thankfully, “Premium Rush” doesn’t moralize (and banalize) pureblood action by making Wilee’s excellent adventure the catalyst for trading in his bike for a desk job.
Meanwhile, psycho cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) loses big while gambling compulsively, getting in so deep with killer loan sharks that he’s forced to head uptown to steal a mysterious “ticket” that’s legal tender for a lot of loot. Guess who’s messengering that ticket down the island to Sister Chen in Chinatown?