Wednesday, January 11, 2017

#2,285. Sucker Punch (2011)

Directed By: Zack Snyder

Starring: Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish

Tag line: "You Will Be Unprepared"

Trivia: Despite playing the lead character, Emily Browning does not have a line of dialogue until about 18 minutes into the film

I remember the first time I saw Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch I was blown away by the visuals, many of which were truly astounding. A few days later, though, what I didn’t remember was anything at all about the movie. As a smorgasbord of special effects wizardry, Sucker Punch is an impressive piece of work, but in the end Mr. Snyder should have probably left some of the razzle-dazzle on the cutting room floor, and instead dedicated a portion of the film’s $82 million dollar budget to building a more engaging narrative.

Sucker Punch conjures up a number of amazing worlds during its almost two-hour runtime, all of which center on 20-year-old Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who, shortly after the death of her mother, was committed to an insane asylum by her evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). Once there, Baby Doll imagines herself and her fellow inmates, specifically Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), as dancers / call girls working for a posh pimp named Blue (Oscar Isaac). With the friendly but naïve Madame Gorski (Carla Gugino) watching over them, the girls continually practice their individual dance moves, which they use to impress Blue’s wealthy clientele.

As for Baby Doll, she’s being reserved for a “High Roller”, who will pay top dollar for her. As it turns out, though, she’s quite the dancer herself. In fact, Baby Doll is so good that no man can look away as she’s strutting her stuff. But while Baby Doll’s body is busy dancing, her mind is always in another place, creating a series of alternate realities where she and the other dancers are soldiers, fighting against monsters and mechanized enemies, with “The Wise Man” (Scott Glenn) advising them every step of the way.

Realizing her time is running out, Baby Doll comes up with a plan for all of them to escape from Blue and his high-class brothel, but do these women have what it takes to see this daring scheme through to the end?

Sucker Punch reveals both its strengths and weaknesses in its very first scene, a highly stylized film noir-esque sequence that sets up Baby Doll’s backstory (her mother’s death, her stepfather’s greed, and her eventual trip to the asylum). Utilizing dark colors and lots of slow motion, all set to a cover version of The Eurythmics ‘80s hit "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" (performed by Emily Browning), this opening is striking, and features plenty of special effects eye candy, but never once was I drawn into the story, and as a result I felt no sympathy for the lead as she suffers through one terrible ordeal after another.

This odd marriage of visual splendor and emotional disconnect continues throughout the entirety of Sucker Punch, and while some of the later combat scenes are, indeed, exciting (my favorite is the WWII-inspired battle against a fire-breathing dragon), never once do we care enough for anyone or anything to really give a damn how these fights turn out. 

The expression “Style over Substance” has become a tired cliché, used more often in movie reviews than is probably necessary. Had anyone who ever relied on that phrase known about Sucker Punch, they would have surely saved it for their write-up of this beautiful but ultimately vacuous bit of cinematic tripe.

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