Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch

Well, the dragon was kinda cool. You know you're watching a Zack Snyder film when twenty minutes in you realize you'd rather be watching a Brett Ratner flick.

There were a myriad of ideas bouncing around my head as the credits began to roll and I tried to wrap my brain around what the hell I just watched, let alone what it was supposed to mean. Coming out of Sucker Punch I felt I was the one who had taken the hit - right in the crotch.

Sucker Punch has been Snyder's pet project since 2007 and it's a pretty strong idictment against directors having total control of a film. It might have been insufferable, but at least Peter Jackson's multi-million dollar masturbatory fantasy had a giant ape who was fun to watch.

Sucker Punch gives us scantily clad young actresses espousing ridiculous dialogue while playing out an even more ridiculous plot. It's impossible to take a film like this seriously, and, for some unknown reason, that's exactly what Snyder wants us to do.

Had the film thoroughly embraced its strengths - the visual style and the absurdity of every single frame - Sucker Punch may have delivered at least on a visceral level. Sadly, the writer/director overburdens the film with a heavy-handed (and conflicted) message about angels, destiny, and the power of female sexuality (none of which is adequately thought out). He also relies far too heavily on slow motion, music video pacing, and montage to tell most of the story. Sucker Punch might have more montage per minute than any film released in theaters since Rocky IV.

The film's biggest, but far from only, flaw is that takes itself way too seriously. This is a movie where a girl dressed up like Sailer Moon shoots Nazi cyborgs in the face and stabs a dragon through the head with a samurai sword. Why would anyone want to weigh it down what should be a relatively carefree braindead fan-friendly thrill ride with sequences about rape and pedophilia and an overall message of hopelessness?


Yes, I said pedophilia and rape. Along with these themes the film also explores idea of forced prostitution. That's right, it's fun for the whole family! Well, "explores' might be too strong a word. Sucker Punch introduces these various plot threads only to throw them away at the earliest sign of a CGI-heavy action sequence. This is the kind of film which makes you want to take a shower afterwards.

What the film lacks in originality it makes up for homages to more video games and movies than I could possibly name here. Trying too hard to look and be cool by borrowing themes, sounds, and visuals from countless video games, movies, and pop culture. Sucker Punch will remind you of everything from Steam Punk style to Kill Bill mixed with Showgirls by way of the Moulin Rouge music video. You could spend the entire film doing nothing more than counting off the references.

The film opens with a video montage involving death of a parent, manslaughter, and multiple attempts at the rape of children - all set to "Killing Me Softly." This is followed by a sequence taken directly from the beginning of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Not surprisingly, in the couple of years since his last live-action feature film Zack Snyder hasn't learned subtlety.

Our protaganist (I'll refrain from calling her the film's heroine) is put into a mental institution by her evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) who pays off an orderly (Oscar Isaac) to make sure she'll be lobotomized before the week is out. As to how an orderly would be able to do this... well, don't try to make sense of the plot. Snyder sure didn't, why should you?

Unsure of her new surroundings Baby Doll (Emily Browning, who also sings the opening number) begins a multi-layer fantasy (think Inception, done by a junior high drama/fetish club) where she recreates her surroundings into a brothel and the inmates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung) into fellow strippers and whores. Together they begin to plan an escape the brothel, or institution, or whatever.

The second level of her fantasy puts the inmates and workers of the asylum into fantastical action sequences where Baby Doll's escape plan is recreated in battles with larger-than-life constructs like dragons and giant samurai warriors with rocket launchers and chain guns. Sadly, this is far less cool than it sounds. It also doesn't help that Baby Doll's sketchy plan for escape by capturing things like "fire" sounds like it was thought up by a mental patient.

We are told (though never shown) that in the first layer of her fantasy Baby Doll has the ability to mesmerize her audience with her incredible raw sexuality. While dancing she is so captivating that can act as a distraction for her friends to steal what they need to escape. What the audience sees, however, is a scared girl swaying vaguely to music with a far off look in her eyes as the character imagines the next layer of her fantasy. This disconnect between what the audience sees and what the characters supposedly see becomes more laughable each time it's used.

It doesn't take a genius to see all the actresses on display were chosen for their looks, not acting ability. Most come off foolish when struggling with the insipid dialogue provided while attempting to come off as both tough and sexy at the same time. Poor Carlo Gugino is saddled with such a ridiculous look and accent I kept looking for Boris Badenov every time she opened her mouth. And when the team hits the field for their sexy military squad maneuvers I dare you not to laugh out loud. Despite dressing each character in a way to hit as many fetishes as possible (Sailor Moon, fishnets, lingere, tight leather busty soldier costumes, etc.) the film isn't titillating. Oh, the film is dripping with sex to be sure, but not a single moment of it is actually sexy.

And for all its apparent self glorification of sex and female empowerment the film's message is actually the exact opposite of what you would expect. The girls don't use their sexuality to get what they want. They're forced into using it to survive. Sex isn't a weapon for them. Instead it's a chain by which they're controlled. These girls aren't empowered; they're victims.

Even Baby Doll can only contemplate an escape when she's given the blueprint by a man (Scott Glenn). These girls don't seize their chance at freedom as much as they submissively allow themselves to be led down a dangerous path by a girl who, for all they know, is crazier than the rest of them combined.

Compared to the writing the look of the film is far and away its strength, but even here there are issues. There are several well done shots and moments throughout the film. Although none are all that memorable, some are fun. One of the best of these is a train hijacking sequence (which it appears was lifted completely from Firefly's second episode "The Train Job"). It also doesn't help that every time I was getting into an action sequence Snyder pulled back to provide his trademark overdose of slow motion. The worst of these moments involves a shell shooting out of a gun and slowly passing across the screen for several seconds.

Sucker Punch is a mess, even for a throwaway action flick starring attractive young women, and this is coming from a guy who owns copies of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li and DOA: Dead or Alive. Browning's character, on whom the entire plot relies, goes through all but a couple of the film's most pivotal scenes with all the emotion and sex appeal of a department store mannequin, and her attractive co-stars are wasted in mostly thankless, and ultimately forgettable, roles.

Zack Snyder's masturbatory fantasy gives us far too much information on what's going on in his head and far too few moments of actual fun. Don't be a sucker, let this one punch itself into obscurity with as little help as possible.

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