Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch

Despite a few flaws and a terrible voice-over, "Sucker Punch" is an imaginative action-packed tale whose attractive actresses are only trumped by the visual effects. Made for fans of Zack Snyder, steampunk and gorgeous effects-driven films starring scantily-clad tough chicks.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language.

Sucker Punch

My opinion of writer/director Zack Snyder is similar to that of M. Night Shyamalan – I loved him in the beginning, but learned to despise him because of bad decisions. Dawn of Dead is one of the most fun zombie flicks to date. 300 was awesome – until my second viewing when the super-cool visual effects became apparent as nothing more than the slow-motion crutches holding it up. My excitement for Watchmen was destroyed with each passing minute of the too-long movie, ultimately making its way to my “Movies I’ll Never Watch Again” list. And Legend of the Guardians was simply boring and unoriginal.

When the first Sucker Punch teaser went online just after Comic Con, I couldn’t even make it through the whole thing because Snyder’s effects already exposed themselves as the backbone of the movie. I quickly blasted my opinion that I “couldn’t care less about Sucker Punch” both here, on The Reel Place, and on Facebook. But then Aaron posted the full-length Sucker Punch trailer in November and my opinion started to skew. What I had originally thought were Snyder’s visual effects used for cool’s sake ended up being part of the story this time. From then until now, I went from caring nothing about Sucker Punch to getting filled with excited anticipation for it.

The opening to Sucker Punch is similar to that of Watchmen – a music-driven slow-motion montage that takes several minutes to establish the story at hand and get to the title card. A young girl – who we later come to know as Baby Doll (Emily Browning, The Uninvited) – and her sister are abused by their step-dad after their mother’s death. Knowing his plan to kill them in order to get at their inheritance, the older sister takes matters into her own hands. When her fighting back results in the accidental death of her younger sister, the step-father has her thrown into Lennox House, a mental hospital for the criminally insane. Now only one kid away from having his hands on the large inheritance, he orders his step-daughter to be lobotomized. With only five days until the surgeon’s return, she must quickly find an escape before her brain is surgically turned into mush.

Even though she does not enter the hospital criminally insane, you quickly begin to believe that she just might be. Instead of spending her five last days in reality, she invents an alternate environment for her escape. Through the power of the mind and perception, the cold, color-deprived mental hospital full lunatic girls becomes a locked-up high-end whorehouse. It is there that she adopts the name Baby Doll, one similar to those of the other girls. Instead of being the new inmate fearing the impending doom of the surgeon, she is the new attractive slave girl being “saved” for five days until the “High Roller” arrives. The majority of the film takes place in this environment, which actually makes Sucker Punch more of a believable and entertaining burlesque movie than Burlesque.

Because Baby Doll is the new inexperienced girl, she must be trained to win men over. From there, the film takes one more Inception-like dive into yet another alternate view on reality. Each time that Baby Doll is forced to dance, she slips into a war-riddled world where she is guided on how to escape from her prison(s). If she can collect five objects in that third level of reality, she will obtain her freedom in the actual reality.

The hope that stems from Baby Doll’s plan for escape entices four other prisoner girls to join along – sisters Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish, Limitless) and Rocket (Jena Malone, Into the Wild), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical) and Jamie Chung (Grown Ups). For each of the five items, as Baby Doll distracts the men with her sensual dancing, they steal an item. But as Baby Doll dances, she slips into that third reality again which mirrors what is going on in the other realities.

Confused yet? Don’t fret. It is not as confusing as it sounds. Given, it is more complex than it needs to be, but not terribly confusing. Everything that happens in one perceived environment is actually happening in all three. Each reality is the same, it simply looks different. If Baby Doll sets a fire in the bathroom of her third reality, that same bathroom is burning in the second reality and also in the real world.

Like most of Snyder’s films, the emphasis is placed on visuals and not on story. The unique idea behind Sucker Punch is stronger than the story he gave it – almost like Snyder came up with a solid base idea, then became distracted and overly excited at the visual possibilities and began drawing storyboards before writing a good story to fuel it. Although not nearly as much as 300, the visuals also become Sucker Punch‘s crutch.

What bothers me the most about Snyder’s visual effects is how much he over-uses slow-motion. Sucker Punch‘s 109-minute runtime would be cut down to 90-something if he didn’t use so much slow-motion. When he first used the slow-down/speed-up effect in 300, being the first time we had seen it, it sure looked cool – but now he is just beating a dead horse. The only other problem that comes with the visual effects is that each third-level war sequence is less intense and thrilling than the previous. Starting the film off with stronger action sequences than the film’s finale causes it to slowly fizzle.

But my main fault with Sucker Punch comes from its ending – not the actual climax but the denumoi. A long, boring and unfittingly inspirational voice-over brings the film to a close. Surely, there must be a better ending on the Blu-ray. As is, the ending is downright awful and unbearable. It’s like eating a tender filet mignon only to have the last bite be pure gristle. Please, Blu-ray Gods, give us an Extended or Director’s Cut with a better ending – I beg you!

Although Sucker Punch sounds too racy for its rating, I assure you that it is not nearly as sexual as it sounds. Even with all of the violence, dark themes and tones, Sucker Punch is a fair PG-13.

If you enjoy Zack Snyder and his herky-jerky action scenes, then Sucker Punch will float your steam boat. If you, like me, haven’t really enjoyed anything he has done since Dawn of the Dead, you will be surprised at how cool Sucker Punch is. While I am glad that he finally wrote a movie that fits his directorial style, I just wish that he would have written it a little stronger.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

3 1/2 out of 5

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