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Sex, sin, slime and serious shadows

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Brittany Murphy co-stars as Shellie in Sin City.
  • Brittany Murphy co-stars as Shellie in Sin City.

*Sin City (R)
Dimension Films

Sin City is a high-contrast, tour de force cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller's hugely popular and wickedly grotesque graphic novel, an homage to the hard-boiled style of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane.

Robert Rodriguez (The Faculty) teams up with Miller and Quentin Tarantino to direct a TKO of a movie that resonates with Tarantino's awe-inspiring Kill Bill movies. Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Madsen, Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba are just some of the dream cast members playing unpredictable characters that will take your breath away. Filmed with a state-of-the-art special effects, Sin City is a lush, stylized, dark and gritty film that weaves together three Miller stories ("The Big Fat Kill," "The Hard Goodbye" and "That Yellow Bastard") with eye-popping results that threaten to addict audiences.

The pitch-dark shadows splayed across every black-and-white image in Sin City evince a wellspring of emotional depth and cruel intention that's expressed with a markedly non-intrusive voice-over narration by the protagonists of each story.

Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is an uncompromising honest cop who does eight years of hard time for a crime he didn't commit in order to protect a little girl named Nancy after she's kidnapped by the serial rapist son (Nick Stahl) of the town's corrupt senator (Powers Boothe). Michael Madsen comes up short by giving stilted line readings as Hartigan's corrupt cop partner Bob, and his performance stands out like a sore thumb in a movie where every other actor delivers Miller's cynical dialogue with pitch-perfect precision.

Mickey Rourke steals the movie as Marv, a virtually indestructible hulk of a bastard addicted to violence, booze and pills. "Marv was born in the wrong century. He belongs on some ancient battlefield, swinging an ax into somebody's face." Marv's taste for blood is piqued after the murder of a hooker named Goldie (Jaime King) who showed him one "night of kindness." Once Marv locates his serial killer prey, Kevin -- one very tweaky Elijah Wood -- it's all about amputation and decapitation.

Clive Owen rounds out the pulpy noir fun as Dwight, an all-around badass who gets caught in an apocalyptic battle between the cops and the mob as the result of a mistaken cop murder, performed by the gun-and-sword wielding prostitutes of Old Town. "You've got to prove to your friends you're worth a damn. Sometimes it means dying. Sometimes it means killing a whole lotta people," says Dwight.

Sin City uses eye-catching reverse-out negative imagery and significant splashes of color to emphasize character traits and show action exactly as Miller originally drew it in his novels. Black-and-white characters bleed bright white blood from black bullet wounds. The effect facilitates Miller's sinewy noir-inflected language that continually hits you like blasts of cold and smoky air.

Guillermo Del Toro has said that the key to a great comic-book movie is that the people executing it "do it out of passion," and there's more than a little of that precious stuff in every frame of Sin City. It's a film that lives on in your memory like a fantasy nightmare where real, living people morph into super-action visions of beguiling but elegant brutality.

-- Cole Smithey

Carmike 10; Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

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