Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Sucker Punch

Title: Sucker Punch

Go On, Get It Out Of Your System: "The only Sucker is the audience!" "Sucker Punch sure lives up to its title!" "At least it's better than a 'Donkey Punch'!"

Feel Better? I do. Thanks.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One-and-a-half Freddie Mercuries out of five.

Why Freddie Mercury? The main bad guy looks like a cross between David Krumholtz and the Queen front man. Plus, I couldn't find any good mutant samurai pictures.

Tagline: "You Will Be Unprepared."

Better Tagline: "I haven't seen this much smeared mascara since Courtney Love's last MTV appearance."

Brief Plot Synopsis:Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is institutionalized by her Evil Stepfather for accidentally killing her sister (and not, as one might suspect, for going crazy over the name "Baby Doll"). Creating an alternate reality to deal with the shock, she devises a plan to escape.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The escape plan in question involves retrieving five things, four of which (a map, fire, a knife, and a key) are specified by the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) Baby Doll sees in one of her psychotic breaks out-of-body experiences. Her "alternate reality" involves imagining the hospital as a nightclub where she and the other patients are dancers. When certain music is played (lead therapist Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino with the worst Slavic accent since Boris and Natasha) uses music to bring out the patients' fears), Baby Doll enters *another* reality where she's this sort of Sailor Moon/The Bride from Kill Bill amalgam that leads her fellow patients/dancers on missions of fantastical violence to retrieve the items.

Critical Analysis: Zack Snyder is probably best known for his work helming 300 and Watchmen. That material was provided by some of the comics industry's most venerated writers (Frank Miller and Alan Moore, respectively). Sucker Punch is Snyder's first crack at directing a story he himself conceived, and it shows.

Admittedly, the fantasy sequences are, well...pretty fantastic. Each "mission" takes place in a military arena roughly analogous to 20th century conflicts. I say "roughly" because the first sequence, a WWI scenario wherein the Germans have apparently taken Paris and gutted Notre Dame, features steampunk zombie Kraut soldiers and a battlemech with a bunny face. The girls themselves are armed with late 20th century era automatic weapons, so the end result sees the sacrifice of historical accuracy (boring) for maximum carnage (radical).

[In putting his movie together, I have to imagine Snyder ticking items off some master geek checklist as he went along: Steampunk zombies? Yep. Dragons? Check. Robots? Got it. Giant samurai? Oh yeah. Scantily-clad former Disney Channel starlet? Boy howdy.]

Yes, that's High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens as "Blondie" (it's funny because she's not blonde), joining Baby Doll, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Amber (Jamie Chung) as they fight their way through World War 1.5, World War Dragonslayer, and Runaway Martian Robot Bomb Train to complete the quest. The overall nerdery of the whole endeavor is enveloped by the frankly sad titillation factor of giving us a loony bin populated exclusively by nubile near-jailbait.

Even that might (*might*) be forgivable if not for the Snyder's cruelty towards his characters and laughable idea of female empowerment. In Sucker Punch, the best way for Baby Doll and the others to exact revenge on the sadists who victimize and abuse them is by...blowing up a bunch of imaginary robots while running around half-naked. Was Betty Friedan a script consultant?

Weighing everything else down is the wretched script. A friend of mine commented that Sucker Punch might be endurable if the movie was 5% plot and 95% majestic computer-generated mayhem (who hasn't wanted to see a dragon fight a B-17? I know I have). Unfortunately, these scenes account for less than half the movie, the rest of which is hobbled by stupefyingly bad dialogue that sounds like Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya merely cut and pasted the text from a few hundred fortune cookies. "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything?" I was waiting for "Wise Man" to give me my lucky Lotto numbers.

More upsetting to me was seeing the exquisite Carla Gugino reduced to a Borscht bloc damsel-in-distress. Carla, call me. We can work on my spec script for a full-length Karen Sisco movie/Out of Sight sequel.

Once you stop playing nerd bingo, you'll find Sucker Punch is a largely shallow affair punctuated by - admittedly - impressive visual effects. Rarely has dumb looked so pretty, or pretty been so dumb.

Sucker Punch is in theaters today. Remember that sex offenders are required by law to register their addresses with local law enforcement.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar