The second time is never quite the same

Photo courtesy Miramax Films

The year was 1995. Pulp Fiction was sulking angrily in the corner of a seedy Los Angeles bar, glowering into a bourbon-filled milkshake. The film had gone home almost empty-handed. Sure, it had won best original screenplay. But best actor? Best picture? Best director? The Academy had thrown them all at some chocolate-obsessed retard called Forrest. That film had even won best adapted screenplay, and voters made sure Pulp Fiction overheard that Gump would have stolen another of his awards had the screenplay categories been merged.

It was almost last call when the haze finally lifted from the film’s eyes. Another movie had walked in, sauntered over to the bar and leaned against it, back to the publican, and fixed her gaze on him. This was Casablancaa film 50 years the pulpy crime saga’s senior.

He made a relatively straight line for her, and thought fast, gently purring to her, “M’am, I don’t mean to bother you, but do you have a moment to talk about the Book of Ezekiel?”

***

Ten years later, in 2005, Robert Rodriguez delivered the lovechild of Casablanca and Pulp Fiction, a comic book movie called Sin City. It was perfect. The film bore the mother’s pure noir sensibilities and romantic magnetism as well as the father’s fast pace and sandwiched vignette structure, to go along with 30 movies worth of tears and blood and terror and triumph. It was a wild blast of energy and color, immediately securing a permanent spot as one of the best and most uniquely memorable movies ever made.

***

The film also creates a massive continuity error with “Nancy’s Last Dance.” It’s clearly set before “The Hard Goodbye” because Marv is still alive, but Nancy is still dancing during “The Hard Goodbye.” And she still has all her hair. And doesn’t have nasty, gaudy scars all over her face. Photos courtesy Dimension Films.

Pulp Fiction was never going to be an attentive father. After losing all the Oscars, he had cursed himself to wander the Earth for the rest of his life. But he knew he had impregnated Casablanca, and he was damn sure one of those adventures would be seeing his child born.

Casablanca, for her part, had never expected the other movie’s involvement. But when she saw the film lose all of the Oscars, the complete lack of response, the expressionless face that held back a great chasm of anger, she new if she didn’t love him she’d regret it. Maybe not that day, maybe not the next, but soon, and for the rest of her life. The child was a nice surprise, as was Pulp Fiction’s presence at its birth.

The duo briefly reunited while Pulp Fiction was in town, but it wasn’t the same. The first time… the fire, baby. It burned them both. But now… now it just felt like they were going through the motions. It was so good the first time, of course it must be better the second, right? So what if no one really wanted to see it after it had been so long. So what if several actors didn’t return. So what if even they themselves realized they were only doing it for the nostalgia.

***

Most of Lord’s scenes take place in her home, so it kind of makes sense that she’s naked so often. That’s what everyone wears around the house, right? Not this scene, though. In this scene, she’s naked in McCarthy’s home.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill for was never going to live up to its predecessor, and that’s really sad because the first film is one of the few that actually lends itself to sequels. It follows many of the same characters through adventures that take place mostly before the first film, but in some cases during or after.

Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) takes center stage in the “Dame to Kill for” vignette, as one of several characters manipulated into killing each other by Ava Lord (Eva Green). “The Long Bad Night,” in which Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) takes on Senator Roark (Powers Booth) in a dangerous game of cards, and “Nancy’s Last Dance,” in which Nancy (Jessica Alba) deals with the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) from the first film, support as stories written specifically for the film. Throughout, Marv (Mickey Rourke) comes in to kill people in much less sympathetic fashion than his iconic turn in “The Hard Goodbye.”

Everything about this movie is just a tiny bit off. Much like Pulp Fiction, Sin City was all over the place, but tied its stories together very neatly. Sin City: A Dame to Kill for does not. None of its vignettes aren’t in any way related to each other. They split up “The Long Bad Night” — in a manner that really doesn’t work for that particular story — to try an add some of that sandwiched feel in, but it doesn’t go over at all. The only thing that ties the stories together is Marv’s appearance in two of the three as a mindless killing machine seemingly unrelated to the character from the first film. His frequent appearances performing tricks from the first movie are like Ringo trying to capitalize on nostalgia for the Beatles by playing something from Lennon’s solo career.

The movie goes overboard in ways the original stayed refined and technical, but also doesn’t have the first movie’s brutal violence. The nudity is ratcheted way, way up — Lord spends more time bare ass naked than with even just a towel on — and all other female characters wear bondage gear as everyday clothing. The first movie played thoughtfully on the line between chivalry and sexism, but this one just seems interested in giving guns to different degrees of sex worker. There’s violence a-plenty, but it’s all kind of dull. They do the thing where blood is bright white, which they did once or twice in the first movie, but here they do it every single time and forget the first movie’s gruesome creativity.

It makes sense for McCarthy to be re-cast, as the character goes through facial reconstructive surgery during “A Dame to Kill for.” That’s why he kept talking about his “new face” in the first movie. What doesn’t make sense is for his mannerisms, voice and demeanor to change completely, or for his post-surgery character to be played by Josh Brolin in an awful Clive Owen wig instead of Clive Owen. Guess Owen just couldn’t be bothered to reprise his character, much like Devon Aoki and Michael Madsen.

To be fair, the film went through dozens of circles of Production Hell, primarily due to actor difficulties. “The Babe Wore Red” was originally going to be one of the movie’s primary skits, but Brittney Murphy, the actress who played Shellie and would have figured prominently in the story, died in 2009 at just 32.

Now, Michael Clarke Duncan, the first film’s Manute, a character who plays a major part in “A Dame to Kill for,” was replaced by Dennis Haysbert and everything was fine. And Lord’s portrayal fell to Rodriguez’s fifth choice in Green — he’d gone so far as to delay production around first choice Angelina Jolie’s pregnancy. It leads to strange questions about what’s actually important to Rodriguez as far as casting goes.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. You are now imagining Samuel L. Jackson and Ingrid Bergman making sweet, sweet love to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at reelentropy@gmail.com. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.

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