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.
Born of a tongue-in-cheek trailer for a border revenge movie that never was, Robert Rodriguez’s big-budget drive-in flick is a more convincing slice of B-movie love than his earlier Planet Terror, certainly more coherent.
Danny Trejo (a Rodriguez favorite) is the former Mexican federalé who turns into a one-man strike force after his family is massacred by a drug lord (Steven Seagal—who can’t keep his accent consistent, let alone convincing—as the pudgiest Mexican drug lord yet seen in the movies) and he’s framed for the attempted assassination of a corrupt Senator (Robert De Niro) by his drug-dealing campaign manager (Jeff Fahey). De Niro’s drawling politico plays the anti-immigration card as a racist scare campaign (he secretly funds a vigilante border patrol run by Don Johnson and uses the patrols as a target range with moving targets) as Rodriquez turns Machete into the protector of the downtrodden immigrants of Texas who fill the lowest-rung of the job market. It’s no coincidence that this hatchet-faced hero uses the tools of Mexican laborers to do most of his battling—hedge clippers, weed eaters, cooking utensils and his weapon of choice, the machete. Don’t call it political subtext, though. Rodriguez’s politics are right on the surface and about as complex as the film’s revenge plot, a kind-of populist response to the anti-immigration rhetoric from the more extreme margins of the political echo chamber. Rather, this is Rodriguez’s Latino answer to the blaxpoitation action films of the seventies, complete with Trejo as an accidental sweet sweetback sex machine, irresistible to every woman he meets without making the slightest overture to toward them.