Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sucker Punch

 As published in F*** Magazine Issue #15, Apr 2011

2011 Release

Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone
Directed by: Zack Snyder

            Having made only film adaptations of existing material, director Zack Snyder takes the opportunity to break out something original before making Superman: the Man of Steel – emphasis on “original”. A balls-out fantasy action adventure, Sucker Punch promises to be unlike everything we’ve ever seen, but ends up being more hit and miss than a knockout.

            Babydoll (Browning) is sent to a mental institution by her wicked stepfather, after the death of her mother and sister. Her only escape is an imaginary realm (and several more within that), in which missions against dragons, alien robots, monster Samurai and zombie WWI-era German soldiers serve as metaphorical goals as she and four other girls in the asylum fight for their freedom.

            Snyder has made his name with hyper-kinetic slow-motion camerawork and a keen eye for larger-than-life action sequences. It’s a given then that Sucker Punch is a very stylish film, and the fantasy and action are indeed kicked into high gear. The production design is eye-popping, the computer-generated animation work of high quality and the action itself pretty wham-bang.

            As such, it’s a big pity that all this is in service of what is pretty much a non-story. The Inception-styled world-within-worlds conceit, combined with the old-fashioned 50s asylum and brothel elements, make this quite a high concept that never quite takes root. The plot and characters quickly become reduced to little more than excuses to string the video game-style fantasy sequences together.

            The five girls are easy on the eye, but the characters are hardly distinguishable and with one or two exceptions they seem interchangeable for each other. Abbie Cornish is mostly flat and unlikable, Emily Browning in a constant daze. There’s something of a novelty factor in seeing High School Musical-alum Vanessa Hudgens in an action film, but not much more beyond that.

 Good thing that the supporting cast is decent – Carla Gugino hamming it up and enjoying herself as the Polish-accented Madam Gorski, Oscar Isaac sleazy and mean as asylum orderly/brothel-runner Blue and best of all Scott Glenn as the Wise Man, a character akin to Charlie in Charlie’s Angels who pops up in each of the fantasy realms to brief the girls on their mission.

Sucker Punch is more an experiment than a film, really, and “experiment-films” haven’t exactly had a sterling track record. An alien city straight out of Total Recall and a steampunk re-envisioning of the First World War are all well and good – if they do something, anything at all, for the story – which they don’t. A disparate patchwork that is in constant danger of falling apart, we wanted a cocktail with kick, but ended up with plain old fruit punch.


Jedd Jong


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