Clive Owen is trying to explain everything that is cool about Sin City, a $40 million marriage of crime saga and special effects starring Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, and the man who would be King Arthur. But when a woman tarted up in black leather is spitting bloody chunks of flesh on the floor, this can be difficult.
We are inside the Texas filmmaking HQ of movie maverick Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico), where on a soundstage that's wall-to-wall greenscreen, Alexander's Rosario Dawson is ravaging the neck of Gilmore Girls' Alexis Bledel. Both play hookers in Sin City, a movie teeming with shady characters. Mobsters, mercenaries, cannibals you know, the usual underbelly scum. In this scene, Bledel is explaining why she has betrayed their sisterhood of pistol-packing prostitutes, when suddenly Dawson lunges and chomps. . .on a strip of latex slathered in red corn syrup tucked behind Bledel's ear. She rips it away and spits. Lips dripping with cherry goo, Dawson smiles like she just won a pie-eating contest.
Through all of this, Owen, clad in a trench coat and red Converse, has been trying to make several important points in a low whisper.
''Robert is totally outside the Hollywood loop. Does everything his own way. I can't see any other way to do this movie ''
''You bit me!'' Bledel shrieks.
''Sin City is violent,'' Owen continues, ''but with tremendous wit. It's film noir, bent out of shape ''
''Arrrrggghh!'' Bledel wobbles and falls.
''Everyone has the same objective,'' Owen goes on, ''to bring Frank Miller's comics to life. Literally.''
Fake flesh splats on the floor.
Owen shakes his head. ''That's wrong. Just wrong.''
Behind a wall of monitors that resembles a workstation at NASA mission control, Rodriguez, wearing his trademark cowboy hat and strumming a guitar, reviews Dawson's chomp. One screen shows the shot in color; another shows the shot converted into stark black and white; yet another shows the shot as drawn in The Big Fat Kill, one of three graphic novels that make up theinterconnected, Pulp Fictionesque triptych of Sin City. Rodriguez's intention is to replicate the comics nearly panel for panel a gambit as bold as it is commercially risky. But in Sin City, people are always doing crazy things for love. For all its splatter, the film is really mushy a big, bloody valentine, from one fiercely independent artist to another. So determined is Rodriguez to get this right, he made the comic-book auteur his codirector. ''Looks good,'' says Miller with a nod.
''Good,'' says Dawson. ''Don't want to wimp out on Frank.''
''Sin City is a pretty f---ed-up place,'' Owen concludes, as he wades into the green for the next scene, picking up a prop as he goes. It's a decapitated head.
Bits of flesh and severed noggins, sadistic brutes and femmes fatales and we haven't even mentioned the Yellow Bastard, who is literally yellow and actually a rapist. Sin City might be a comic-book movie, but you won't find masked marvels patrolling these scuzzy streets. ''I told my mom I was dressed like an S&M superhero,'' says Dawson. ''She was like, 'What's your name?' I said 'Gail.' She said, 'No, your superhero name?' I said, 'No, Mom, I'm not actually a superhero. . .'''