Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Sucker Punch" (2011)

Starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone
Written by Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya
Directed by Zack Snyder
Rated PG-13 - Sexual themes, violence and language
Running Time: 110 minutes

Sucker Punch"Sucker Punch" is almost unreviewable.  On the one hand, it's a gorgeous bit of filmmaking from a director who is known for creating awesome, comic book-inspired imagery.  On the other, the story is so thin and one-note that it might have been better served being released as a series of bizarre, thematically-connected music videos - since that's essentially what each and every single one of the increasingly absurd action sequences play as.

The story begins as a young woman nicknamed "Baby Doll" (Emily Browning) discovers that her mother has just died.  Her stepfather, enraged that the will leaves everything to Baby Doll and her younger sister, attacks the two girls.  Baby Doll defends herself with a gun, but misses and accidentally kills the younger sister.  She's quickly arrested, and the stepfather pins the killing on Baby Doll and has her committed to a local mental hospital.  There, he bribes an orderly named Blue (Oscar Jones) to fake the signature of the hospital's leading doctor, Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to get Baby Doll lobotomized by the end of the week.

Inside the hospital, Baby Doll retreats into her imagination where the hospital is remade into a whore house run by Blue where the girls are trained by Madame Gorski to dance for high-paying clients.  Baby Doll meets the other dancers and befriends several of them: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung).  When Baby Doll hears music and begins to dance, she goes further into her imagination and meets an old man (Scott Glenn) who tells her that if she can find five objects, she'll be able to use them to escape along with her friends.  He gives her a sword and a gun, and tells her to defend herself.  Baby Doll formulates a plan of escape whereby she will dance to distract their marks, and the girls will collect the objects they need - a map, a knife, fire, and a key.  If they can find these, and a mysterious fifth object, they'll get out alive before the Doctor (Jon Hamm) arrives to give Baby Doll her lobotomy.

"Sucker Punch" is... a fitting title.  You can't really prepare yourself for the assault on your senses that this movie unleashes.  The action sequences are densely choreographed, each of the girls often taking on multiple opponents at once, quickly and brutally, with the camera swirling in and around the action.  Each sequence is prefaced by a briefing and words of wisdom from the old man, which gives the entire movie the feeling of being set up like the levels of a videogame.  And because the action sequences essentially happen in place of things that are actually happening in 'reality,' the story progresses in fits and starts.  All told, there's really only enough story here to tell in half an hour or forty-five minutes, but "Sucker Punch" fills out its nearly two-hour runtime with a whole lot of fighting.

There's not a lot of variety to that fighting, even if the settings vary greatly.  The movie begins with the girls fighting undead World War I soldiers, and ultimately leads them to taking on orcs, dragons, and finally robots on a train headed into a futuristic city.  It's all very cool, but I can see how people would get bored of it after a while.  Each sequence is accompanied by loud, pounding music, often a remix of a classic rock songs like "I Want It All" by Queen, "Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles and "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane.  The remixes are, more often than not, by female artists and even some of the cast including Browning who covers "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by the Eurythmics.  The music is actually quite impressive, but it makes the action sequences seem like a bizarre mashup of videogame levels and music videos.

"Sucker Punch" is really quite difficult to describe.  I was never bored watching it, but it has obvious flaws as a film.  Whether or not the action sequences can overwhelm these flaws is a bit more subjective than this review can really impart.  I enjoyed my time with "Sucker Punch," drawn into the music and the images, but I was ultimately let down by the ending and the fact that the story is just so thin.  Many people will hate "Sucker Punch," scoffing it as an empty, soulless or even misogynistic exercise in sensory excess.  I don't.  If you can ignore those flaws, if you can appreciate it on a purely surface level, and catch it on a giant screen with an excellent sound system, then I say go for it.  It'll make a fantastic blu-ray when it heads home, too.