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 story. 

As a smorgasbord of special effects wizardry, Sucker Punch is an impressive piece of work, but in the end Mr. Snyder and company would have been better served leaving some of the razzle-dazzle on the cutting room floor, and dedicating at least 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 that she and her fellow inmates -  Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) - are 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 is reserved for a “High Roller”, who will pay top dollar for her. But Baby Doll is quite the dancer herself; in fact, she's so good that no man can look away as she’s strutting her stuff. 

While Baby Doll’s body is busy dancing, however, her mind is always off in another place, creating a series of alternate realities in which she and the other dancers are soldiers, battling monsters and mechanized enemies as “The Wise Man” (Scott Glenn) advises them every step of the way.

Realizing time is running out, and that the "High Roller" is coming for her, Baby Doll comes up with a plan for all of them to escape from Blue and his high-class brothel. But does she and the others 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. The effects kept me at a distance, admiring from afar, and as a result I felt no sympathy for the lead as she suffered through one terrible ordeal after another.

This unfortunate 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), we simply don't care enough about anyone or anything to 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 sugar.

1 comment:

softlad said...

You have to hand it to Zack Snyder, he produced a sugary sweet confection that somehow managed to leave a nasty taste.