Monday, March 28, 2011

Sucker Punch (2011)

I wanted to like Sucker Punch. I really did. With every critic I’ve read tearing the film apart, I entered the theater with a rebellious “screw those guys! what do they know?” attitude, determined to find something they missed. Some underlying and redeeming silver lining.

I still haven’t found it.

Sucker Punch isn’t exactly a cinematic disaster, but it is a messy and oddly constructed entanglement of influences and ambitions. Like the obscure covers, re-mixes and musical mash-ups that pump through its soundtrack, the movie is an odd but interesting undertaking; an exploration of an over-sexed geek culture masking a modern tale of female empowerment. But this is also, ultimately, a crock of shit – writer/director Zach Snyder’s film is a barely coherent and unbearably unbridled attack on your senses, built to tease everybody and please nobody.

We open the movie on Baby Doll (Emily Browning), a 20-year-old still living at home with her little sis, her dying mom and her mean step daddy. When Mom kicks the bucket, Mean Step Daddy is finally free to get all angry and murderous, killing little sis before Baby Doll can intervene. When Baby Doll pulls a gun on him, MSD has her sent to a mental ward and pays extra to have her lobotomized by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm.

We get all this info through a 10 minute opening montage, in which we may think the opening character doesn’t say a word, when in fact it’s her voice we hear on the covers of "Sweet Dreams" and "Where Is My Mind?" that score her back-story. Sneaky.

Conveniently, Dr. Loboto won’t be here for another week, so Baby Doll’s got time to plan her escape, which she’ll do by fantasizing that the mental hospital is actually a burlesque house in which she has an uncanny dancing ability that transports her to a sub-fantasy in which she and her friends battle in a videogame. While sub-fantasy Baby Doll kicks video-game butt, regular fantasy Baby Doll dances the most amazing dance you’ll never see (since Snyder cuts into video-game land before she starts dancing), that distracts the bad guys long enough for her fantasy friends to steal precious items they’ll use in their escape… in the real world. Make sense?

So why is Baby Doll going all Kill Bill meets Scott Pilgrim in this sub-fantasy land? Because that’s what the fanboy Snyder want to see! Certainly not because it has any impact on the story. And definitely not because Baby Doll and her grrrrl power troupe (Abbie Cornish, Jenna Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung) have to defeat video-game versions of the bad guys in the real world. They’re battling giant samurai’s and dragons and zombie soldiers. Awesome-sauce!

There are rumors that Snyder’s film has itself been lobotomized - in an effort to appease studio execs and the MPAA (the film is appropriately rated PG-13), many “crucial scenes” were cut. But then, Snyder also directed 2009’s Watchmen and 2006’s 300, similarly “gee-wiz” eye candy films that were inhibited by sloppiness of their own. This is Zach Snyder’s M.O., and it is continuously frustrating.

At the same time, it is strangely rewarding. While Hollywood is more than ever lambasted for its lack of originality, Snyder continues to push the boundaries, narratively and aesthetically. His prior films were adaptations, but Sucker Punch is his brain child, 100% original story, if also 90% influenced by films/comics books/video games/music videos of pop past.

Sucker Punch is a less satisfying Inception – Christopher Nolan for the anime crowd. It ebbs and flows as a Snyder film does, through artfully-constructed, stop-start action sequences and atmospheric music montages. Even when impeded by faceless, art-destroying censor monsters, Snyder battles through a land of make believe very much his own. But Sucker Punch – or at least the theatrical cut we receive – is more than ever not created for you. If you’re here for the action, you may find the cartoonish approach, the disconnection from reality and lack of formidable opponents disappointing. If you’re here for the T&A, that Sailor Moon outfit is all this PG-13 flick is gonna offer you.

And if you’re here for a really cool story about a girl who uses her fantasy adventures to escape a real world travesty, then you may be disappointed by the fact that we spend almost no time in that “real world”, because Zach Snyder doesn’t believe in “reality” anyway. Whatever world it is that we are first introduced to, it is used as only a bookend, as if Snyder deemed it too difficult to integrate those stakes into his unhinged cinematic dreamscape.

And if it doesn’t matter enough to him, why should any of this matter to you?

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