Sucker Punch,
directed by Zack Snyder
(Warner Bros., 2011)

Back in the day (circa the 1980s), directors like Michel Gondry and Michael Bay made popular movies for the music video generation. It was all about films with fast cuts and rapid sequences -- basically productions on Ritalin. Zack Snyder missed the ride on that novelty train by about two decades, but nonetheless Sucker Punch hit theaters this past April with an all too literal interpretation of what's known as the MTV Filmmakers movement. His latest film is nothing more than one blaring, boring music sequence after another.

Sucker Punch launches with a non-diegetic rendition of "Sweet Dreams" by actress Emily Browning, the film's leading lady playing Baby Doll, and takes us on a convoluted journey bookended with a nonsensical narrator that spouts phrases like, "Who honors those we love for the very life we live?"

This time, since the story is Snyder's own creation, we can't be distracted from the film's flaws with our usual preoccupied hum of debate about faithfulness to original material. His storyline has Baby Doll locked away in Brattleboro asylum by her sexually abusive stepfather and, with his cash lining the pocket of the corrupt warden Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), she is scheduled for a covert 1930s-style lobotomy -- think One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest but more romantically theatrical with swelling music and glittering costumes.

As a defense mechanism, our heroine loses herself in a fantasy world that turns the asylum into an upscale brothel in which the girls are forced to create enticing dance performances -- which we never see -- for clients as a way of advertising "the goods." Baby Doll convinces seasoned whores Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) to carry out an escape plan.

A testament to their acting abilities, Cornish and Malone have the most lines out of all the girls (Browning included) and have personal conflict beyond victimization, as opposed to their female counterparts who seem to whimper and tremble their way through the film. Notice how Hudgens is cut short of brazenly dropping the F-bomb (proof that her innocent off-screen persona definitely affects her roles) and Chung's only function in the film is to be the resident tech person (she flies planes, monster-shaped machines and helicopters) -- begging the question why the Asian characters always the tech/science people.

Unfortunately, Baby Doll's uninspired imagination has created a fantasy that's one rickety step above reality, and so she is forced to create an additional fantasy world every time she begins to dance. This fantasy consists of four action-packed missions (to obtain objects for their escape) styled like video game genres ranging from medieval dragon's lairs to Nazi Zombies.

While Sucker Punch does appear to cater perfectly to the comic book-reading "nerd" demographic, it comes off as almost insulting. It makes no attempt to hide the fact that it's only agenda is to find the most effortless route to box office success by manipulating an audience that usually prides itself on holding accountable directors that claim to have its interests at heart. Granted most filmgoers are box-office junkies, but the difference is that Sucker Punch isn't even fun to watch. We spend most of our time acutely aware that Snyder is trying to pack a plethora of boyhood fantasies into one film, and so we spend our time fending off exhaustion from the overload.

review by
Molly Ebert

16 July 2011

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