Mark Reviews Movies


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 3/25/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 24, 2011

"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," the wise, old Wise Man (Scott Glenn) tells his team of ass-kicking, sexualized cherubs before they enter into an imaginary battle that's meant to show how empowered they are in a fantasy-world escape from another fantasy world where men degrade them, which is, apparently, a step up from the real world where the men abuse them.  Then again, even in the second-level fantasy, they're still taking orders from a wise, old wise man (Compared to the rest, he is basically a nice, old wise man who speaks in clichés). These and other contradictions are plenty in Sucker Punch, an aggressively empty exercise in excess that could probably stand to take the above advice.

The movie's form is one of stuffing together two genres so disparate that it cannot logically be a contradiction—an anti-musical that replaces song and dance numbers with repetitive action sequences.  Whether this is meant as a critical genre analysis (See, music sequences in a musical are expendable contrivances, so to demonstrate, here are some slow-motion sequences of gunfire and swordplay to serve as a substitute) or a terribly misfired homage is beside the point. It doesn't work through either lens of influence.

This is an exploitation movie that's far too infatuated with the idea of using associated motifs to break down conventions and, by acknowledging them, become its opposite, and yet, it is still an exploitative piece of false female empowerment, complete abuse, revenge, and a resolution that insists self-abuse is the ultimate revenge, which is about as wrongheaded a lesson as there is to be found in such deconstruction. This sense of false righteousness leads to a deadening execution of self-seriousness, from one cover of its bookended bumper-sticker philosophizing narration to the other.

The story involves three levels (with three blunt color schemes: muted, bold, and bolder)—reality, a burlesque version of reality, and the representation of the lead's seductive dances as action sequences. She is known only as "Baby Doll" (Emily Browning), the victim of a money-hungry stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) who attempts to kill her and her younger sister to gain their dead mother's fortune.

Instead, Baby Doll accidentally shoots her younger sister in the attempt to stop him, and the stepfather has her committed into an insane asylum, where she is scheduled to undergo a lobotomy despite the assertions of her psychiatrist (Carla Gugino) and because of the greed of a corrupt orderly (Oscar Isaac). As the spike is about to enter her eye, the colors pop, and suddenly, Baby Doll is in a brothel/dancehall where her psychiatrist is now the dancers' matriarch and the corrupt orderly is the crooked owner.

The actual plot concerns Baby Doll's attempt to escape the confines of the bordello/asylum by collecting five simple items with the help of her sisters in dance/arms known also only by pet names: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), which might be her character's actual name.

The structure is repetitive: Baby Doll and her cohorts figure out where they can get one of the items from the list, she lazily sways to an electronic choral version of a classic rock song (The idea is to distract the man in possession of the needed item), and, just when the singing and dancing would usually start, the movie shifts into yet another fantasy level. These third-level sequences take on the guise of various sorts of generic action set pieces—always introduced by the Wise Man, always following a go-here-shoot-them-grab-that goal.

The CG-heavy backdrops—from a steampunk variation on the trench warfare of the Great War to a castle overrun by orcs and guarded by a dragon to the old bomb-on-a-runaway-train gag with bland robots—are the only thing to change. Otherwise co-writer/director Zack Snyder's staging of babes (Considering their midriff-flaunting, thigh-high-tight-wearing, high-heeled outfits, there's little else anyone could be expected to dub them, yet Snyder and Steve Shibuya's screenplay figures an early acknowledgment of wardrobe "titillation" is enough to excuse it) and bullets flying in slow motion becomes quickly, obnoxiously monotonous.

There are no stakes in Sucker Punch's barrage of banality (The final outcome is clear the moment that hammer rises toward the pick); real risks are absent (The girls are so competent with their swords, automatic rifles, and bullet-dodging gyrations that one never fears for their demise, and most of the actual violence toward them is kept off-screen as an apparent "statement," which it negates by the very essence of the constant cruelty toward them). The movie's ultimate contradictions: It's a clean mess—an overexcited bore.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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