Sometimes a comic book is just a comic book, even when it's called a graphic novel. Frank Miller's "Sin City," though it was transferred to the screen by the expert Robert Rodriguez, is still as flat as it was on the page. And don't get me wrong; I like comic books, I grew up on comic books, and still practice saying SHAZAM whenever I'm alone and my wife can't hear me.
Nevertheless, "Sin City" the movie sadly represents an enormous effort in an unworthy cause. Rodriguez has brought together a dozen A- and B-list actors, including Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mickey Roarke and Clive Owen, to name only half the cast, in this bleak, black and white (and red and yellow, used only as occasional highlights for blood and guts and lipstick) set of stories set in, well, Sin City. All of them involve proud, macho men as they try to save/protect/love women, who seem capable of protecting themselves quite well anyway. One story follows a detective named Hartigan (Willis) and the 11-year-old girl he tries to protect and then meets later when she's an exotic dancer. Another involves an unrecognizable Mickey Roarke, shot, stabbed, and otherwise maimed, who takes a very brutal revenge on an overly aggressive dog. Still another deals with trenchcoated Clive Owen and a group of prostitutes led by the very resourceful Rosario Dawson.
But as much as everyone in the film is physical, violent, gorgeous and sexy - well, almost everyone (the villains are monstrously ugly) - they are all simply figures in a two-dimensional world. We look at them as we would at insects pinned to a board; we're curious, maybe momentarily intrigued, but never, never involved. No one in the film even faintly resembles a human being, and so there's no one to identify with, no one to love, no one even to represent an idea. Everything is motion, nothing is emotion. Now is that necessarily wrong? No, of course not. Think back to the first "Superman." From Brando's farewell to Reeve's saving the earth by turning back time, we felt an emotional identification that we knew intellectually was impossible. But even though "Sin City" wants to be about love and hate, about wrong and right, and all those human feelings and concepts, it fails because it won't let us in to identify with anyone. So we're left with empty action, stunning visuals in a dark and retro style, and nothing more. Where are Huey, Dewey and Louie when we need them?