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Friday, March 25, 2011

Movie Review: SUCKER PUNCH


Sucker Punch is a 2011 action film directed by Zack Snyder. It follows a young woman known as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) who is institutionalized by her stepfather after she accidentally murders her younger sister in the wake of her mother's death. Baby Doll meets Blue (Oscar Isaac), the head of the institution that proves to be a twisted and conniving individual. During her tour of the facilities with another young woman called Rocket (Jena Malone), Baby Doll learns that the girls in the institution are basically glorified escorts who have to dance for paying customers. They are taught to dance by an older woman/therapist named Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) who takes a particular liking to Baby Doll's very raw approach to dancing. Because of her recent past, Baby Doll has been ordered to have a lobotomy within a matter of days in order to "erase" her memory; she therefore sets out to escape the institution. With the help of Rocket and her reluctant sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), as well as Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), Baby Doll uses her dancing - as well as an imagined, alternate reality - to acquire the tools necessary to make her escape.

I'm still feeling a little bit torn about Sucker Punch, so this may not be the final will and testament I give it. I think I need to think about it a little bit more before being set on my final grade and rating, but for now, we'll run with what I'm currently feeling. As with most Zack Snyder fare, visual spectacle takes the forefront. If you've seen any of his previous work (i.e., 2007's 300 or 2009's Watchmen), you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Yes, there's stories and acting underneath all the computer-generated effects, but the visual nature of his films is so palpable that it could be cut with a knife. It's not like it's a terribly bad thing to have great visuals, but I think it might have been just a little too much this time around. In a lot of the special effects-laden scenes, I found myself becoming very annoyed with it all. It got a little too hectic, and it definitely felt like they were showing off their skills a little too much. I've never felt this strongly about a Snyder film's visuals, but this one might have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

Let's talk about acting because I know exactly what I want to say about it. Browning is decent as our lead, but I picked up very early on that she really doesn't have much in terms of actual dialogue. Most of her scenes consist of her either standing in one spot preparing to "dance" or fighting some CG creature, so there's really not a ton of room for her to work in any characterization. A couple of the girls give decent performances - for example, Malone and Cornish are good enough as sisters who constantly butt heads. I found Isaac to be rather good. I'd first seen him in last year's Robin Hood and was pleased with his performance there as well, so I went in with a little bit of hope that he might be able to do something. He's not amazing, but he doesn't disappoint, either. Scott Glenn makes a couple of appearances throughout the film and plays an integral role in the film's plot, but he just didn't seem to fit into the movie at all. I couldn't tell you why - he just stuck out a little too much to me. We've also got a slightly extended cameo for Jon Hamm, who does the best he can with the role.

Now onto the screenplay, which is what I'm most struggling with. Let's start with the positives. It's definitely an innovative story; you can't take that away from Snyder who co-wrote the screenplay. It also nearly comes full circle, which I'm generally a sucker for. If a movie can leave you without any massively pressing questions about the plot, then it's succeeded in some degree. I did, however, have a couple of questions with pieces of the plot, but I won't delve into them here considering you probably have yet to see the movie, and I wouldn't want to give anything away too soon. I wasn't entirely convinced with the dream-like alternate reality that the girls put themselves into to deal with their surroundings, and considering that's central to the storyline, I think it needed to be more convincing. I know I'm not really making a good argument either way for the screenplay, but I'm still mulling it all over at the moment.

Basically, the jury is still out for Sucker Punch. The latest critical consensus has been generally negative (it currently holds only a 20% approval rating on the online review aggregate, but I don't think it was absolutely terrible. It has its good moments - for example, the opening sequence (set to a cover of Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams Are Made of These") is damn near brilliant. In fact, the one truly great thing about this film is the soundtrack, which'll have you tapping your toes all the way through. But a soundtrack doesn't make a movie. Maybe once I get a set feeling about Sucker Punch, I'll come back and say some more, but for now, all I can say is that I'm up in the air.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: C-
Thumbs Sideways

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