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‘Sin City’ is all over the place

Bruce Willis stars in adaptation of classic graphic novels by Frank Miller. By John Hartl

The credits for “Frank Miller’s Sin City” list three directors: Miller, whose graphic novels inspired the movie; Robert Rodriguez, the ingenious director of the “Spy Kids” series; and Quentin Tarantino, a “guest director” whose approach to comic violence appears to have been a major influence.

Maybe that’s too many cooks. The movie is all over the place, mixing film-noir visual styles and plots with famous actors whose faces are so buried in makeup it’s hard to tell who’s playing what. The script by Miller and Rodriguez, which suggests a cut-and-paste job rather than a coherent narrative, is drawn from several of Miller’s stories.

The credits also claim the movie was “shot and cut” by Rodriguez, whose color schemes appear to be paying tribute to the titles of such Miller novels as “That Yellow Bastard” and “The Babe Wore Red.” Women’s lips are garish-red, though everything that surrounds them is in black and white. And only a gangrenous form of yellow is allowed to peep through the black-and-white scenery  surrounding a yellow monster played by an unrecognizable Nick Stahl. (Perhaps 90 percent of the film is in black and white.)

“Sin City” begins with a romantic episode that turns vicious when Josh Hartnett kisses and then shoots the woman he’s in the process of seducing. It sets the tone for much of what follows: vows of friendship are followed by beatings, strippers mix spectacular violence with their club acts, and declarations of undying love are blended with an awful lot of dying.

Among the more recognizable actors are Bruce Willis, as a retiring policeman with a bum ticker and a martyr complex, and Clive Owen, as an obsessed creature who seems capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. They get a lot of screen time, and so does an expertly disguised Mickey Rourke, as a thuggish criminal who is fixated on finding his lover’s killer.

Stahl, who is recognizable in earlier scenes, isn’t around for long. Neither are Hartnett, Powers Boothe as Stahl’s politician father, or Elijah Wood as a lethal prodigy who appears to be unstoppable. In addition to decapitations, the movie features cannibalism, castration, rivers of blood (sometimes red, sometimes milky), death by sledgehammer (accompanied by thunderous sound effects) and a lineup of hookers’ heads that are displayed like hunters’ trophies.

By now, you may be getting some idea of whether this is your kind of movie. If you enjoyed Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” double bill, you may welcome “Sin City” as a logical replacement for “Kill Bill, Vol. 3.” If you’re not a “Kill Bill” fan, you probably won’t be attending anyway.

Usually when Tarantino and Rodriguez work together, the result falls into the unmentionable category. Anyone care to revisit “Four Rooms” or “From Dusk Till Dawn”? Thought not. “Sin City” isn’t that kind of train wreck. There’s a little more going on here, thanks to the actors — especially Owen, Rourke and Wood — even if the rest of the picture comes off as an aggressively self-conscious curiosity.