Movie Review: Sucker Punch (2011)

Sucker Punch review
Abbie Cornish, Emily Browning and Jena Malone in Sucker Punch
Photo: Warner Bros.

Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake showed the promise of a fun and exciting young director. 300 delivered on that promise but also showed the first signs of story taking a back seat to visual effects. 2009’s Watchmen seemed to complete the metamorphosis as Snyder completely gave in to eye-gasms and fanboy gloss. So I can’t say it comes as a surprise that Sucker Punch mercilessly pummeled me into unconsciousness.

Sucker Punch is Snyder’s barely legal wet dream. It’s a film with the vision of a teen boy excited by the Victoria’s Secret catalog and confused by his burgeoning sexuality. I would take this even farther but there’s still a lot to get to.

Set during the 1950s, Sucker Punch centers on a girl we’ll come to know as Babydoll (Emily Browning) following the accidental death of her younger sister whom she was trying to save from their step father’s sexual advances. In an attempt to hide what really happened, Babydoll’s step father commits her to a mental hospital and pays off an orderly (Oscar Isaac) to expedite a lobotomy. But before that can happen, she slips in and out of one imagined reality into the next where she and her new found friends attempt to escape the confines of the institution holding them captive.

This Shutter Island scenario is only the start as reality gives way to layered imagination. We’re not talking all out Inception here, but what we first see as a mental hospital gives way to a ’50s nightclub and Babydoll is no longer a patient, but one of several lingerie-clad hookers dancing for dollars.

Joining Babydoll are Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). Equipped with names you’d give a child if you wanted their career paths to end in the arms of Ron Jeremy, this fist of softcore fury teams up to break out.

With the story before you, understand the set up is by no means the problem with this film. Described by Snyder as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns,” it’s actually the seed for a potentially fun story. It’s just too bad this seed grows into a weed. Lacking in any kind of valuable sustenance all you want to do is kill it.

As Babydoll slips into her alternate reality she and her fellow inmates face off against a zombie army, dragons, giant samurai warriors and armed robots. This is where Sucker Punch becomes almost abusive of its audience. Rock music, explosions and gun fire blend into a cacophony of noise accompanied by whip pans and Snyder’s continued use of exaggerated slow motion. Our heroines battle with all their might, but your concern is not with their well-being, but instead with when it will come to an end so you can give your eyes and ears a rest.

Complaints aside, Snyder’s visual talent is not to be ignored. The guy knows how to make things look cool. His trailers show promise of a cinematic orgasm set to the tune of the latest Bjork remix, whetting your appetite for a theatrical experience unlike any you’ve seen. Unfortunately, visual style gives way to excess. Snyder is out of control as he even decides a bucket of falling potatoes deserves a dramatic slow motion shot as they crash to the ground. Potatoes!

The editing of this picture also appears to be an afterthought. At one point it felt as if an entire reel had gone missing and in another instance a conversation is had nearly 10 minutes after it should have probably occurred.

Snyder doesn’t do his actors any favors either. Emily Browning struts around like a 16-year-old looking for her cyber stalker, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung play the vixen roles, Jena Malone plays the hardcore innocent and Abbie Cornish simply sees her reputation as an actress tarnished as she gets every ounce of corny, over dramatic push back dialogue one film can handle.

The majority of the film’s dialogue, though, belongs to Carla Gugino as the hospital’s head psychologist and Oscar Isaac as not only a hospital orderly in the real world, but the equivalent of a pimp in the imagined one. Then there’s Scott Glenn (The Right Stuff) as he channels David Carradine’s Kill Bill persona as Babydoll’s dreamworld guide known only as Wise Man. Glenn is given the distinguishable duty of delivering such clever battle cries as, “Don’t ever write a check with your mouth you can’t cash with your ass.” Uh… what?

As the stupidity rains down around you, at last you must try and decipher what all of this means.

Sucker Punch left me with the message that while being raped and abused it’s probably best to dream about gunfights and massive explosions. When Babydoll slips into her dream world we’re never witness to the hypnotic dance she supposedly uses to distract her audience from what’s really going on. Of course, this isn’t really a “dance,” but instead a distraction from the abuse of a 20-year-old girl at the hands of lowlifes. What does this ultimately offer us? As far as I’m concerned, nothing.


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