Sin City

You won't get any argument from me that Sin City, pseudo-iconoclastic filmmaker Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Frank Miller's cult comic book series, isn't "eye popping". Part Dick Tracy, part Pulp Fiction, part Rumble Fish, part Batman, this film is a fanboy's delight.

Rodriguez found so much inspiration in Miller's stark black and white visuals that he apparently used the Sin City comics as storyboards for his film, giving Miller a co-director credit in the process. (Quentin Tarantino has a cheeky "special guest director" credit for his hand in the sequences between stars Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro.) But make no mistake: This is control freak Rodriguez's film all the way through. I counted no fewer than eight different screen credits for the guy, including editor, cinematographer, composer, and visual effects supervisor.

I was briefly surprised to realize that this is the first of Rodriguez's releases that I've actually seen. On the one hand, he is a hero to me – as he is to many independent filmmakers – for being able to make successful movies outside of Hollywood while retaining complete control over his work. (He even quit the Directors Guild after they refused to allow Miller a co-directing credit.) And yet, for all his talent and energy, he channels it all into callow exercises in style over substance. Which may explain why I never bothered to rush out to see his earlier work.

To be fair, Rodriguez doesn't aspire to make anything other than Big Dumb Bloody Entertainment, he sure seems to be having a great time playing with all his digital toys, and Sin City is so completely over-the-top that it's hard to heap any real criticism on it. This may, in fact, be Rodriguez's ready-made justification for everything that he does: Call it irresponsibly violent, call it hopelessly juvenile – he'll only smile and shrug, "Hey, it's just a movie!" He may be right, but then what's the point of all that work?

I enjoyed Sin City to a degree: There's good fun to be had in its hard-boiled campiness, it certainly is stylish, and while the quality of the cast's work is variable, Bruce Willis adds his usual gravitas and Mickey Rourke (under pounds of makeup) is nothing short of fantastic as the toughest guy that ever lived. But it's all just so vapid.

I'm sure film geeks will treasure Sin City just as they do the overrated Fight Club and Natural Born Killers. Everybody else will probably feel like me: Momentarily dazzled by the visuals, and amused by the bombast, but in the end: "Eh!"