Eye For Film >> Movies >> Sucker Punch (2011) Film Review
Reviewed by: David Graham
"You know what'd be really cool?" Zack Snyder must have asked himself this question many times when writing his first script; he should have asked if any of it make any sense. And I'm not just talking about the story. The 'visionary' director of 300 and Watchmen here plumbs new depths of CGI shoddiness and facile characterisation with his already over-indulgent style. It's as if he's trying to recompense audiences for the homo-erotic man-fest of his Frank Miller adaptation with a Spice Girls-style quintet of nubile starlets in barely-there outfits, see-sawing between Moulin Rouge-tinged dramatics and furious fantasy set-pieces culled from Xbox-land. However, his film is well and truly sunk by its absolutely preposterous pretensions as well as a paradoxical void of substance.
Lemony Snicket's Emily Browning stars as Babydoll (groan), a feisty orphan who finds herself incarcerated in a madhouse, framed and blamed for her stepfather murdering her sister. This ain't no ordinary loony-bin though: it's populated by pin-ups du jour like High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung, and should've-known-better indie stars Jena Malone and Abbie Cornish. The girls escape into a theatrical dreamland where they're centre-stage in a twisted cabaret, presided over by Oscar Isaac's slimy warden and marshalled by Carla Gugino's pointlessly Polish psychiatrist.
Babydoll finds herself exploited as the new attraction; every time she's forced to dance (a spectacle we're thankfully spared, in a rare show of restraint) she sinks further into action-adventure reverie where she and the girls become battle-hardened warriors in scenarios ranging from knuckle-headed sci-fi to a WWII re-enactment populated by Nazi zombies and steampunk robots.
All of this 'performance' is meant to work as deception; every time Babydoll dances, everyone around her is hypnotised, allowing the girls to go on stealth missions to recover a series of items that offer their only hope of escape from the ward and eventual lobotomy. However you look at it though, it's really just masturbatory misogynistic trash masquerading as a saga of female empowerment. There's no rhyme nor reason to the ensuing mayhem, just a few lines of wonky videogame logic delivered by Scott Glenn in his increasingly annoying appearances as some sort of mental guru at the start of each 'stage'.
Snyder may have wrung some suspense out of his scenarios if he'd cut away more to the scenes set in 'reality', but he gets lost in an orgy of plastic PlayStation destruction. In fact, the whole thing is infinitely less interesting than even old-school videogame structure; the scenes in the asylum in between seem to function as 'levels' while the fantastical scenarios serve as 'boss' encounters, but even the most average game knows to throw in a bonus round or secret level to surprise players. These videogame cliches quickly become repetitive, and do nothing to distract from the sleazoid cabaret of male wish-fulfilment that ties them together.
At one point Glenn sends the girls packing with the infinite pearl of wisdom: "Don't ever write cheques with your mouth you can't cash with your ass." What the hell is this supposed to mean? Given that the girls don't actually speak much - if at all - and are basically invincible during the bouts of carnage, it comes across as another tired twist on the 'don't dress like a slut if you're not willing to give it up' notion. Given that Snyder has his entire female cast unflatteringly dressed as such and has them constantly subjugated by their male counterparts throughout the film, it's a worrying message to be sending to the target audience of teenage boys.
It's not the only one either, the throwaway violence can also be upsetting. There are many moments of men physically abusing women, frequent fetishising of blades and guns and one particularly unnecessary moment has the girls slit a sleeping baby dragon's throat, for no good reason other than to kick-start the 'level'. There is no attempt to draw any metaphorical line between events in the asylum and those in the genre-straddling fantasy worlds. The Fall managed to bring charm and intrigue to its flights of fancy by having them clearly flower from its protagonist's surroundings and those around her; Babydoll's fantasies aren't even her own, they're just Snyder's cringeworthy attempt to appeal to his own inner 14-year-old, and hopefully a few in the audience.
Music lovers will also have their heads in their hands (if they're not covering their ears) when they hear several universally loved songs used to mirror the girls' situation. Songs like Sweet Dreams and White Rabbit may be appropriate lyrically, but blaring out over the action as cringeworthy cover versions they just draw attention to how little is going on in the plot. Scott Pilgrim got away with this through flip humour and judicious use of dialogue during the music, but here it's akin to an annoying child trying to get you to listen to an X-Factor wannabe murdering the classics.
Emily Browning is responsible for much of the singing, and while she can definitely carry a tune, the insipid arrangements couching her velvety vocals flay the originals of any feeling or subtlety. Pixies fans will feel particularly ear-raped by the repeated (ab)use of Where Is My Mind, and Snyder somehow even manages to make Björk's monumental-sounding Army Of Me embarrassing. The sound design in general is painfully overwrought: at several points you will be wishing you'd brought earplugs. If you're not just wishing you'd stayed at home.
Attempting to pull a One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest-style ambiguous victory is the final nail in the coffin for Snyder's epically awful opus. Most of the cast try their hardest, but Snyder seems to have forgotten that being camp doesn't work without humour. Malone stands out as the most spirited and emotionally vulnerable character, but Cornish and Browning fail to convince as kick-ass heroines, left to pout and simper in a vortex of animated trickery.
Glenn and Hudgens are just plain bad, both raising hackles and unintentional laughs every time they open their mouths. There are flashes of visual invention and visceral action that momentarily get you pumped for what the film could become, but ultimately it's more a tragic case of the 'could've been'. It's the most misjudged waste of style and talent since the execrable The Spirit, a sordid slice of rancid pop-culture vomit that leaves a toxic aftertaste. Avoid like the proverbial plague.Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2011
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