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SUCKER PUNCH - 2011
Cruel & Unusual Films, Lennox House Films, Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures
Rating: USA: PG-13
You Will Be Unprepared.
That's true. I was prepared for something so much better. After all, this is Zack Snyder! The guy who made the only decent remake of a George Romero movie, DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004): The guy who brought Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's 300 to life!
I wasn't too thrilled with WATCHMEN, but I could respect the fact that it was a difficult concept to present to audiences and that Zack labored under a studio that wanted a movie which would enrich sales
of their "property" even while they had no idea how to do that (a lot of directors left or even ran away from WATCHMEN).
The trailer to Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole didn't inspire me to watch it, even while I really liked the director. Apparently, it didn't inspire many.
The trailers to SUCKER PUNCH weren't compelling either. Still, I liked the director and in SUCKER PUNCH, Zack not only wrote the story, he co-wrote the screenplay, he directed, produced it (with his wife and only other producer, Deborah), his production company, Cruel and Unusual Films, is one of the investors, his longtime associates, Legendary Pictures (who have been with Zack since 300) were onboard, and all of the executive Producers are all Team Snyder veterans.
SUCKER PUNCH is all Zack Snyder with a bit of script help from co-screenwriter, Steve Shibuya (KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE).
So what is SUCKER PUNCH? It begins with a music video montage (Montage! Even Rocky had a montage!). It's a first person shooter game with very long cut cinematic scenes.
The cinematic cut scenes would have been served so-o-o much better with hand drawn animation. The MTV Montage is of two terrified girls: One who we will come to know as Baby Doll (Emily Browning: GHOST SHIP, DARKNESS FALLS, LEMONY SNICKETT'S: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, THE UNINVITED). There's lots of the usual, unbridled, over-the-top and crash, super syrupy direction you'd expect from a dramatic 3 minute music video from the 1980s. While nobody belted out Total Eclipse of the Heart, they wouldn't have been out of place if they did. We get a tsunami of Look-I'm-Directing in the form of Swing-the-camera over here and STOP! Slo-o-o-w-Mo-o...
Now Zoom in on this Image Here and STOP!
Zoom in on his shoe! Stop! Slo-o-o-w-Mo...
Zoom in on the car! Stop! Slo-o-o-w-Mo...
Zoom in on the fat old father's evil smile! Stop! Slo-o-o-w-Mo...
Zoom! Stop! Slo-o-o-w-Mo...
Zoom! Stop! Slo-o-o-w-Mo...
and the whole thing is colorized and cgi'd to the freaking gills in the most blatantly noticeable way possible. And that was cool when we saw 300, because we had never seen that before. But now for the last five years we've seen it. And seen it. And seen it!
Plus 300 actually had characters we could care about.
Baby Doll accidentally kills her little sister while trying to murder her father. Her Pop survives and sends her off to an insane asylum to be lobotomized. This all appears to take place in the late 1930s, early 1940s when lobotomies were legal, though the evil Pop pays off an evil orderly who somehow runs the whole asylum despite the plethora of doctors and nurses and pretty much an entire infrastructure that is way over his head. I've no problem with this plot line.
Without us ever knowing the why of it, Baby Doll imagines herself as a girl who has been delivered by a Catholic Father (a dream-version of her evil Pop) to a sleazy nightclub where the women are forced to dance and prostitute themselves. The club is run by Baby Doll's imaginary pimp version of the asylum orderly, Blue Jones. The asylum doctor, Dr. Vera Gorsky (Carla Gugino: SIN CITY, THE UNBORN, WATCHMEN), becomes the house madam who teaches the girl to dance to the anachronistic tunes.
Baby Doll delusion-ally imagines that the surgeon coming to lobotomize her on Wednesday (Jon Hamm), is really the "High Roller" coming to pop her virgin cherry. No wait! It gets worse!
To escape the fate of rape and being lobotomized, Baby Doll must further delude herself into yet a third hallucination where she is a hero doing fantasy heroic things upon the orders of a wizened old man who sends them into danger.
Zack Snyder has a name for this over-the-top patriarchal, macho-masochistic slop-fest: Girl Power!
Baby Doll is not a person with a past, facets, humor, anything. She is only a victim and that's all she ever is and ever stays throughout the entire movie. In fact, that's all every female character in this movie is and that's all they stay. All of the women are ciphers.
Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish: LIMITLESS),
Rocket (Jenna Malone: DONNIE DARKO, THE RUINS),
Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens: BEASTLY) and
Amber (Jamie Chung: SORORITY ROW).
Their lives are miserable, and have always been miserable, though some of them may be the architects of their own fall. All of the men are ciphers except one, the lead villain, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac).
So a small cabal of Baby Doll's hallucinatory prostitutes all go into Baby Doll's deeper delusions (maybe, maybe not) that she creates for herself whenever she dances. There she is a warrior hero, but still a posturing one note. Worse, she's an cliche warrior girl cypher. You Will be Unprepared? Only if you've never seen anime.
For reasons unknown, Baby Doll-as-a-prostitute needs to dance (we never actually see her dance, we are only told that she is about to dance) in order to go into her delusional fantasy battles via first person shooter video game-style (think Halo or Call of Duty). That is, she has a Mission Commander who tells her what her mission is and how to win it. Before she and her female asylum patients; cum prostitutes; cum warriors go into a battle, the male Mission Commander (Scott Glenn: GARGOYLES, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES) tosses off a bumper sticker bon mot like "If you don't believe in something, you'll fall for anything." These bromides mean nothing to the battles they go into and they kill the moment every time they're uttered. Scott Glenn's character in this flick is "Wiseman" (Ugh! Ugh!).
The only redeemable thing is actor Oscar Isaac. I'm thinking that Oscar put it upon himself to portray his character of Blue Jones as a despicably brutal man-child who becomes emotionally distraught whenever he builds up the courage to do vicious, horrible things to his victims. It's as if the pain he inflicts on others is a replay of terrible things that were once done to him. The reason I think this is all Isaac, is because Zack Snyder has no hint of such resonant embellishments to anyone else here. It feels like, if the actors brought more to the table than was expected, fine. If they didn't, fine. Snyder didn't care and may not have even noticed.
SUCKER PUNCH is a comic book without writer James Gunn's sense of emotional, human interaction; without
writer Frank Miller's theatrical sense of layered human nature; and without writer Alan Moore's understanding of deeply flawed, unredeemable characters, who are given one fleeting moment in their miserable, selfish lives, to change.
Unfortunately, Zack doesn't appear to get any of that, which is really too bad. In SUCKER PUNCH, there isn't the slightest glimpse of someone who cares about his story or his characters. At least James Cameron knew the proper scenes to cut from other movies and how to paste them in the proper order for AVATAR. Even while Snyder is busily lifting from other movies and T-Shirt quips, he uncaringly throws them together in a trash-pile pastiche.
With a good writer and a good story, Zack can really shine. With someone else writing who is Not Him, Snyder can intrigue and wow us and have us walking out of the theater abuzz and excited. He knows how to direct a good story: He is a wonderful storyteller. But he doesn't know how to write an interesting story with intriguing characters or even why he should. Zack is all about toy store eye-candy.
Which is why SUCKER PUNCH, a shallow, uninspired TV commercial with no heart and stretched out to nearly two hours, gets one Shriek Girl: KILL IT BEFORE IT BREEDS!
copyright 2011 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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